API Standards Support Bipartisan Effort to Plug Orphaned Wells
Posted June 30, 2022
API’s Recommended Practice (RP) 65-3, Wellbore Plugging and Abandonment, released last year provides important guidance for the design, placement and verification of cement plugs used to temporarily or permanently close natural gas and oil wells – timely, as the federal government and states advance plans to plug orphaned wells across the country with the help of funding in last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, popularly known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
An orphaned well is a well that has been inactive for a period of time, does not have an identifiable owner, and has not been properly plugged and sealed. Today, a company cannot just walk away from a well, and most producing states require a bond or other form of assurance from the well owner to provide financial support for future well plugging and remediation. The vast majority of orphaned wells to be addressed date to the 1800s and early 1900s.
RP 65-3 also guides well remediation and verification of annular barriers, helping to reinforce groundwater protection and mitigate the release of fugitive greenhouse gas emissions such as methane. RP 65-3 elaborated on decades of well integrity work, including:
- API RP 51R, Environmental Protection for Onshore Oil and Gas Production Operations and Leases, which provides environmentally sound practices for domestic onshore oil and gas production operations, including reclamation guidelines.
- API Standard 65-2, Isolating Potential Flow Zones During Well Construction, 2nd Edition, which contains guidance for the prevention of flows through or past barriers that are installed during well construction.
- RP 49, Recommended Practice for Drilling and Well Servicing Operations Involving Hydrogen Sulfide, which applies to oil and gas well drilling, completion, servicing, downhole maintenance, and plugging and abandonment procedures conducted with hydrogen sulfide present in fluids.
The infrastructure law is slated to provide $4.7 billion to states, tribes and federal agencies over the coming years for plugging, remediation and restoration activities targeting more than 100,000 documented orphaned wells – about a tenth of the number of U.S. operating natural gas and oil wells, which also will be covered by RP 65-3 when they stop producing. The first tranche of grant funding becomes available this year, with 26 states expected to participate.
In Texas, for example, the Texas Railroad Commission’s Oil Field Cleanup Program has plugged more than 42,000 orphaned wells across the state since being established in 1984. In fiscal year 2023, the commission set new goals to plug another 1,000 orphaned wells. Due to the infusion of federal funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the state expects to plug an additional 800 orphaned wells in the upcoming fiscal year.
As the leading standards-setting body for the natural gas and oil industry, API and our member companies support federal and state policy objectives to address the proper abandonment of orphaned wells to protect public safety and the environment. In recognition of API standards’ best-in-class status, many standards are accepted by state, federal and international regulators as well as used voluntarily across the industry, meaning RP 65-3 will have a significant impact addressing the issue of orphaned wells in compliance with laws and regulations.
Kevin O’Scannlain, API vice president of Upstream Policy:
“The proper sealing of natural gas and oil wells is paramount to ensure safety, sustainability and environmental protection. API has established strong industry standards for proper well design and execution including proper plug and abandonment operations, helping to reduce emissions in alignment with API’s Climate Action Framework.”
About The Author
Alexa Burr is Vice President of Segment Standards & Programs in API’s Global Industry Services division, which is responsible for standards setting, certification, training, events, publications and safety programs for industry operations. Prior to API, Alexa worked at the American Chemistry Council in various roles where she oversaw the strategic direction of Responsible Care® program and led international advocacy efforts on a range of issues. She holds an undergraduate degree in Biology of Global Health and a master’s in Biological Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Diseases, both from Georgetown University.