CHATHAM TWP.: Ohio is making a major effort to reduce the number of abandoned oil and natural gas wells.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management has identified 400 so-called orphan wells in 58 Ohio counties that are ready for plugging to ensure that they don’t create safety, health or environmental problems
An additional 200 wells have been identified as orphan wells, but more work needs to be done before they are ready to be included in contracts to be plugged, state officials said at a media event last month in western Medina County.
Orphan wells are those with no responsible party capable of paying for their permanent closure. Plugging such wells is seen as a reliable way to prevent pollution of surface water and aquifers.
Such wells also can emit rotten-egg odors and can, depending on concentrations of sulfur and other gases, be explosive and dangerous.
The state list of wells set to be plugged includes 39 in Medina County, nine in Summit, two in Portage, two in Stark, six in Wayne and 49 in Cuyahoga counties.
A crew was working recently to plug an old well off Vandemark Road that had been leaking.
It required about 70 cubic yards of concrete under pressure to seal off the 500-foot-deep well, said Rick Simmers, chief of the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.
Ohio began its formal plugging program in 1977 and to date has addressed more than 1,000 orphan wells.
It is not known how many abandoned wells Ohio might have, Simmers said.
An estimated 270,000 wells have been drilled in Ohio in the past 150 years — with 49,000 in production across the state.
Some orphaned wells go back more than 100 years, are long played out and often discovered decades later — when the companies that drilled them no longer exist.
Ohio has been plugging 40 to 50 wells a year with the program funded by the state severance tax that gas and oil producers pay.
The state now is looking at completing 75 wells a year with its program, allocating $1.5 million for well plugging in the fiscal year that ends June 30 and about $2.5 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, Simmers said.
The typical cost of plugging a well is $20,000 to $25,000, although one well can cost as much as $250,000, he said.
That makes it difficult to say how long it might take Ohio to complete the 600 identified orphan wells, Simmers said.
Ohio law requires the well owner — defined as the person or company with the right to produce the oil and natural gas — to plug and abandon any well that cannot produce in commercial amounts.
For information about orphan wells, go to http://oilandgas.ohiodnr.gov/orphanwellprogram. You can also call Gene Chini at 330-308-0007 or a local inspector. They are listed on the Web page.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.