NR 2004-6
April 9, 2004

Contact: Anita Gore
Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886


LOS ANGELES – Averting a potential threat to public safety, property and the environment, the California Department of Conservation has begun work on five deserted, leaking oil wells in south-central Los Angeles to ensure they are properly plugged and abandoned.

The wells are part of a group of wells formerly owned by now-defunct and bankrupt Geo Petroleum in the Rosecrans and Howard Townsite oil fields. The wells have been idle since 1999. All of the wells are under pressure, meaning there is the potential for leaking. Thus far, however, oil is escaping into the storage cellars of only five wells.

DOC’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources already has arranged for the wells’ cellars to be pumped out, ensuring that no oil escapes to the surrounding area. The next step is to permanently seal the wells.

“We want to make sure the public and the environment are not at risk by plugging the most problematic wells immediately,” DOC Director Darryl Young said. “Certainly there’s the danger of flammability, but the bigger concern is the possibility of a major cleanup. It doesn’t take much oil to make a big mess, so we’ve declared this an emergency situation. We will address the remaining deserted wells as soon as possible.”

Non-producing wells are considered “idle” as long as operators maintain them in accordance with state regulations and have a plan to ultimately put them back into production or plug and abandon them. There are many such wells around the state, and they are inspected routinely. However, when there is no responsible party to either plug the well or operate it, the well is considered an “orphan,” and the state steps in.

DOC’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources oversees the Orphan Well Plugging Fund, part of an assessment funded by the petroleum industry. The division currently is authorized to spend up to $1 million per year to plug and abandon orphan wells. It hires contractors to do the work and supervises the operation to make sure the public is protected. Additionally, Geo Petroleum had a cash bond on file that will be used to cover a portion of the plugging work. Since 1977, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources has plugged about 1,000 orphan wells at a cost of more than $12 million. There are more than 700 wells on the waiting list to be plugged; 28 have been plugged and abandoned this year.

“We constantly reassess the prioritization of this list, taking into account such things as whether there are obvious hazards, such as leakage, and whether the wells are in close proximity to residential areas,” State Oil and Gas Supervisor Hal Bopp said. “The wells we’re currently plugging fit both criteria, so they became our top priority.”

In the plugging process, a portable rig is placed over the well. Cement and special drilling mud are alternately pumped deep into the well casing through tubing. When the cement hardens, it stops oil, gas and water from entering the well and migrating to the surface. The mud acts as a secondary barrier.

The fields in which the deserted Geo wells are located, Rosecrans and Howard Townsite, were discovered in 1924 and 1947, respectively. The Rosecrans field has a cumulative production of 84.1 million barrels (more than 3.5 billion gallons), with peak production of 7.7 million barrels in 1925. In 2003, the field produced 185,500 barrels from 46 wells. The Howard Townsite field is much smaller, with cumulative production of 5.98 million barrels (peak of 344,000 in 1951). In 2003, the field’s four active wells, operated by Power Run Oil, LLC, produced 10,000 barrels of oil.

California produced 280 millions of barrels of oil in 2003, a decline of about 9.5 million barrels from 2002. There are 90,000 wells statewide, of which 47,000 are producing oil wells and 1,200 are producing gas wells. The remaining wells are not producing currently.

In addition to regulating oil, gas and geothermal wells, the Department of Conservation studies and maps earthquakes and other geologic phenomena; maps and classifies areas containing mineral deposits; ensures reclamation of land used for mining; administers agricultural and open-space land conservation programs; and promotes beverage container recycling.