In California, an idle well is a well that has not been used for two years or more and has not yet been properly "plugged and abandoned" to the satisfaction of the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resource (DOGGR). Plugging and abandonment involves permanently sealing the well with a cement plug to isolate the oil- and gas-bearing geologic formation from water. If a well is not properly plugged and abandoned, it may provide a path for oil, gas, or other contaminants to migrate through the well and into drinking water or to the surface. There are approximately 30,000 wells in California categorized as idle.
Updated regulations to improve maintenance of idle wells became effective on April 1, 2019. The regulations specify far more rigorous testing requirements that better protect public safety and the environment from the potential threats posed by idle wells. The regulations require idle wells to be tested and, if necessary, repaired, or permanently sealed.
If well owners become insolvent or desert their idle wells, responsibility for plugging and abandoning the wells often falls to the State. Since 1977, DOGGR has plugged and abandoned about 1,400 wells at a cost of $29.5 million (the funding is from an assessment on production). To reduce the number of wells the State may become responsible for plugging and abandoning, legislative and regulatory changes have been made to create incentives for operators to manage their idle wells by entering into
Idle Well Management Plans (IWMPs). The fees an operator must pay for each idle well have been increased to reflect the potential costs associated with these wells. In 2018, DOGGR collected $4.3 million in idle well fees. That resulted in the plugging and abandonment of over 1,000 idle wells−476 of them in compliance with an IWMP.
DOGGR conducted informational workshops on the implementation of new regulations for Idle Well Testing and Management.
The new requirements took effect April 1, 2019.
Workshop Materials to download and print:
Idle Wells Workshop Implementation Presentation (PDF)
2019 Testing Compliance Work Plan (Excel)
2019 Testing Waiver (Excel)
2019 15-Year Engineering Analysis (Excel)
Idle Wells Regulations (Marked with changes) (PDF)
Idle Well Regulations (Clean) (PDF)
A Preliminary 2018 Calendar Year Inventory of idle wells is available for download. This inventory is missing all wells that became idle in the 2018 calendar year.
Final Orders to Plug and Abandon wells to eight operators, corresponding to 35 idle wells, in response to unpaid idle well fees in 2018. Additional Orders will be issued over the coming months.