Abandoned Uncapped Wells Pockmark Western Public Lands
Records Show BLM Does Not Shoulder Responsibilities to Ensure Reclamation
Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management does a poor job of ensuring that abandoned, non-producing oil and gas wells are reclaimed as required by its own regulations, according to an analysis of records from Utah Field Offices posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group is asking for an audit of BLM orphaned well reclamation in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming, Western states that the PEER record review did not cover.
BLM regulations require that oil and gas wells no longer producing in paying quantities should be plugged, related facilities and equipment removed, and disturbed sites re-contoured and revegetated. Plugging and reclaiming ends needless venting of methane and other greenhouse gases, prevents spills and contamination, reduces soil erosion, curbs fugitive dust and returns the site for wildlife forage.
Many wells that were not producing when Stan Olmstead started working at BLM in Utah back in 1992 were still not reclaimed twenty years later when he retired. Stan wanted to know how widespread the problem was and enlisted PEER to help find out. He designed a record request that PEER sent to BLM seeking information on well reclamation in Utah.
The resulting records revealed more than 1,000 unplugged and un-reclaimed non-producing wells – nearly 800 of which have not been producing for more than seven years – and more than 500 abandoned for over a decade. Each well site averages approximately four acres.
“Reclaiming abandoned wells is more than bureaucratic busywork, it is the epitome of good land stewardship,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Laura Dumais who obtained the BLM records. “These figures suggest that BLM is much better at issuing drilling permits than policing or retiring them.”
In a letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze directing his attention to these conditions, Stan Olmstead wrote:
“As a past employee at the BLM Vernal Field Office (VFO) I became greatly concerned with the lack of oversight administered by the office in requiring and assuring appropriate and professional energy well abandonment and land reclamation by the energy industry… VFO management’s concern in reclamation was not the same as in permitting land use. This lack of priority of land ‘health’ is a failure to serve the American public.”
PEER is requesting that the Interior Department Office of Inspector General audit BLM compliance with requirements to reclaim non-producing wells on BLM lands in in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, active petroleum-producing states that the PEER record review did not cover.
“Oil and gas companies should not be allowed to use public lands as a scrap heap,” Dumais added. “We think an audit would motivate BLM to start enforcing its own reclamation policy.”