Why It’s So Hard And Expensive To Plug An Abandoned Well

Why It’s So Hard And Expensive To Plug An Abandoned Well

An estimated 2 million abandoned oil and gas wells across the country, forgotten or ignored by the energy companies that drilled them, are believed to be leaking toxic chemicals. Many of the wells are releasing methane, a greenhouse gas containing about 86 times the climate-warming power of carbon dioxide over two decades. Some are leaking chemicals such as benzene, a known carcinogen, into fields and groundwater.


First, crews must remove any pumpjacks or other equipment that might have been left at surface. They then examine the well for problems: leaks, deteriorated casings, cracked cement. They fish out random sticks or debris that might have wedged over time into the wellbore — the vertical shaft that is drilled to extract oil and gas.

“If you leave a well ignored for a long enough time, the casing begins to deteriorate inside,” said Luke Plants, chief operating officer at Plants and Goodwin, a company that plugs oil and gas wells throughout Appalachia. “Every kid that walks by and sees this open pipe throws a rock down in there.”



The cost to plug an orphaned well varies depending on its age, depth and location. In North Dakota, where some wells are drilled to depths of more than 20,000 feet, it can cost $150,000 to plug a single well and restore the land around it. In Pennsylvania, the state budgets about $33,000 to plug each well.

By Cathy Bussewitz, WESA