Hundreds of wells could be permanently plugged at sites in seven counties
July 18, 2023
SACRAMENTO – Today, the California Department of Conservation released a draft list of orphan wells it proposes to be permanently sealed as part of the first wave of such projects that will be supported by state and federal funding. The list will be discussed at a California Geologic Energy Management (CalGEM) webinar tonight
, which will open a 20-day comment period for public feedback on the proposed well sites. Public comments can be emailed to CalGEMOrphanWells@conservation.ca.gov
Orphan wells – those deserted or without a financially viable and compliant operator – present environmental and community health hazards. Orphan wells are at risk of leaking methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is the second-largest contributor to climate change. Governor Newsom and the Legislature provided an unprecedented $100 million in last year’s budget to address the problem and seal as many wells as possible.
“This list includes leaking wells with serious compliance issues that have concerned communities for years. It represents months of work to collaborate with local governments, identify environmentally sensitive wells and those that impact disadvantaged communities across California’s oil-producing regions,” said Conservation Director David Shabazian.
“In addition to protecting front-line communities, we’re also supporting job opportunities for Californians in the state’s workforce training pilot to train displaced oil and gas workers. We appreciate the support from the Labor and Workforce Development Agency and look forwarding to making good use of these investments.”
Before an orphan well can be plugged, CalGEM must issue its operator a formal order to permanently seal (plug and abandon) the well. CalGEM has issued orders for nearly 700 such wells.
“The state is stepping in to seal these wells because they pose a risk to public health and the environment, but we’re not letting anyone off the hook,” said Director Shabazian. “CalGEM is looking at all possible enforcement actions to recover the cost to plug these wells, because every dollar recouped can go towards plugging more of the thousands of potentially orphaned wells across the state.”
AllenCo – 21 wells in Los Angeles
Located near Saint James Park, homes, and an elementary school, this site has generated enormous concern from regulators and the nearby community for the past decade. CalGEM has cited the operator for violation of California’s oil and gas laws. In 2022, CalGEM obtained a court order to enter the site and depressurized the wells per a final remedial order that CalGEM issued to AllenCo Energy, Inc to protect the nearby community.
Sunray – 22 wells near Arvin and Lamont in Kern County
Sunray Petroleum is the operator of 22 wells located in and around Bakersfield, Arvin, and Lamont. The company has outstanding violations dating back to 2017, and recent inspections by CalGEM and California Air Resources Board (CARB
) found 11 of the company’s wells leaking methane. Although CalGEM repaired the immediate leaks, it has ordered the wells to be plugged and sealed permanently.
Citadel Exploration Inc. – 37 wells in or near Bakersfield
Citadel has 37 wells near Bakersfield and has failed to maintain those wells or pay fees and fines for its noncompliance with state law. Inspections have found evidence of leakage, oil-stained soils, and trash on the company’s property. Last year, CalGEM and CARB observed elevated levels of methane leaking from several Citadel facilities. CalGEM repaired those leaks and ordered the wells to be plugged and sealed permanently.
Other sites include
- Blackstone Oil and Gas – 37 wells in Kern County
- Hartley Natural Resource Development – One well in Kern County
- Prine Oil Company – One well in Kern County
- Tri-Valley Oil & Gas – Six wells in Kern and Fresno counties
- Griffin Resources, LLC – 25 wells in Kern and Fresno counties
- Peak Operator LLC – 39 wells near Oxnard in Ventura County
- Vaca Energy, LLC – Six wells in Ventura County
- Clarence R. Barnett Inc. – Two wells in Ventura County
- Another six wells across Los Angeles County and three wells in Orange County.
CalGEM has already begun plugging 172 wells in the Cat Canyon Oil Field in Santa Barbara County, using a mix of federal funds and industry fees and penalties. Many of the wells were found leaking in environmentally sensitive areas or active agricultural fields. CalGEM is working with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to provide cultural monitoring and guidance in the work to restore these lands once they are plugged and sealed permanently.