Oil well reclamation services help remove oil, gas, and other substances from abandoned, buried, or otherwise degraded oil and gas production wells. Reclamation of these wells helps return land to its natural state, restoring ecological function and ecosystem services as a result.
Wells are reclaimed for a variety of reasons, including environmental protection, securing landowner interests, and economic development (Raimi et al., 2020). Reclamation of inactive and orphaned wells is becoming an important and ongoing issue for the oil and gas industry as the demand for crude oil decreases and environmental protection becomes a higher priority.
Orphaned wells, those that are not owned or operated by a company, sit abandoned for decades and can pose risks to the environment and community health. Across the United States, there are about 56,600 documented orphan wells, according to a report from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.
Reclamation of these sites requires a lot of attention to detail and expertise. It takes years to complete, and it is critical to ensure that the well’s surface is reclaimed to match the surrounding landscape.
Costs depend on a number of factors, including the depth and type of the well, equipment required to perform the work, and the geographic area where the work is being performed. Mobilization costs and disposal fees also increase the overall cost of plugging and reclaiming a site.
Several federal and regional governments have announced programs, legislation, and incentives to plug and reclaim inactive or orphaned wells (Raimi et al., 2019). In Canada, the federal government has committed $1.7 billion CAD to plug inactive wells and support oil and gas workers in April 2020.
The need for well plugging and reclaiming services is increasing nationwide, as the global oil and gas industry undergoes constant boom-and-bust cycles that have left a significant inventory of inactive and orphaned wells largely unattended. In response, local and state governments are investing in these services, as they are an excellent way to reduce environmental impacts while supporting oil and gas production and employment during economic downturns.
As well as removing oil and gas from inactive or abandoned wells, reclamation of these sites helps protect the landowner’s interest by ensuring that the well’s area remains a protected environment and is used for other purposes, such as agricultural use, wildlife habitat, or recreation. The reclaimed land can be replanted with native plants and trees to establish self-sustaining vegetation, providing wildlife and crop production benefits.
These benefits are considered a value-added benefit to the owner of the land and should be valued in any assessment of the land’s environmental impact. A recent study estimated the value of these benefits to be $21 billion, or $49,000 per well.
Orphaned wells can pose serious environmental and financial risks for the community if not properly reclaimed and maintained. These risks include the loss of property values, soil contamination, and damage to groundwater supplies.
To minimize environmental impacts, the oil and gas industry and landowners must be clear about what responsibility is associated with a well’s abandonment, plugging, and remediation. This includes setting the stage for appropriate financial assurance, bonding requirements, and establishing clear timelines for abandonment, plugging, and site reclamation. These requirements are necessary to uphold the polluter-pay principle and allow for the timely removal of pollutants from a site without damaging the public’s health or the environment.