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Know the West

Latest: Abandoned gas wells aren’t adequately managed

A new report found the BLM falls short in overseeing orphan wells.



After the coalbed methane boom ended in the mid-2000s, Wyoming saw a big jump in the number of abandoned gas wells, including many on federal and tribal land, where the Bureau of Land Management oversees cleanup. The agency charges just a small $25,000 bond to cover all of a company’s wells in a given state, though reclaiming even a single one may cost up to $30,000. On state and private land, meanwhile, bonds are at least $75,000 (“Coalbed methane bust leaves thousands of orphaned gas wells in Wyoming,” HCN, 1/1/14).



A new report from the Government Accountability Office lays out the BLM’s struggles managing abandoned oil and gas wells, noting that it lacks consistent procedures for reviewing wells and bonds, and has not systematically tracked data on cleanup expenses and potential liability. Today, with an estimated 219 orphan wells and more sure to come, the BLM may face at least $46.2 million in reclamation costs. For comparison, the agency spent $3.8 million on cleanups between 1988 and 2009.