August 16, 2017
SACRAMENTO – State regulators have begun the process of permanently sealing six wells in the Raisin City oil field southeast of Fresno to protect the public and environment. Lacking responsible operators, these are considered deserted -- sometimes called “orphan” -- wells. The Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR, now CalGEM) will tap into industry-provided funds for the approximately $220,000 needed to plug and abandon the wells, three tanks and other attendant facilities.
“The companies that drilled these wells between 1956 and 1990 are no longer viable,” said State Oil and Gas Supervisor Ken Harris, who heads DOGGR, part of the California Department of Conservation.
“Although the wells are not problematic now, they could eventually become a target for vandals and pose concerns to groundwater. In addition, removing the wells and other equipment will allow agricultural operations to expand on the property.”
State law requires oil well owners to properly seal wells after operations are done. Many operators comply with that requirement, but unfortunately some do not. Since 1977, DOGGR has plugged nearly 1,300 deserted wells at a cost of more than $22 million. The oil and gas industry pays an assessment on production to fund this work. DOGGR currently is authorized to spend up to $2 million per year to remediate deserted wells. Senate Bill 724 (Ricardo Lara, D – Bell Gardens), sponsored by the Department and currently under consideration, would increase this funding amount to $3 million dollars annually.
Governor Brown last year signed legislation aimed at reducing the number of idle and deserted wells in the state. Some of Assembly Bill 2729’s provisions took effect at the start of 2017. DOGGR is writing regulations for other portions of the law. The most important provisions of the law are 1) the requirement that operators plug specified percentages of their long-term idle wells and 2) a fee structure to fund hazardous deserted well abatement. DOGGR is accepting public comment on pre-rulemaking draft regulations in support of AB 2729 through August 21.
“California has more than 23,000 idle wells, and about half have been idle for a decade or more,” Harris said. “We’ve identified more than 2,000 potential deserted wells. The longer wells remain idle, the bigger the risk to the environment and public health.”
C. Case Company., Inc., of Riverdale is the remediation contractor for the Raisin City project. The five oil wells produced a total of 214,468 barrels of oil between 1977-2011. The sixth well was used for injection rather than production.