Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas

”Your climate watchfrog on the Central Coast”

Poorly Abandoned Wells

Poorly Abandoned Oil & Gas Wells

After a year of historical well record analysis and research, Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas (CFROG) has completed a report determining that over 40 percent of abandoned oil and gas wells in Ventura County cannot be confirmed as properly abandoned. 

The persistent extraction of oil and gas in Ventura County has left over 4,000 plugged and abandoned wells and over 2,000 idle wells. “Plugged and abandoned” is a term used to describe wells that have been safely and successfully closed – meaning that they should no longer pose any danger to the land, air, and water. Unfortunately, this study found this is not the case. 

Using state agency data from California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), CFROG found the majority of poorly plugged wells, 66 percent or 1,629 wells, were abandoned before 1953 when modern plugging standards were established. An additional 372 wells were categorized as poorly abandoned due to method – including the use of insufficient plug materials, final abandonment responsibility transferred to the landowner, determined to be inadequate by agency review, or another major issue is noted. Lastly, 211 wells had entirely missing records and 180 had incomplete abandonment documentation – despite being labeled as “plugged.” 

The organization worked with University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy students to assess this problem in Los Angeles County with a smaller study of wells sampled from environmental justice areas. In addition to finding a significant number of wells with evidence of poor abandonment, their study found that CalGEM had no publicly available well record data for nearly half of their sample. The group attempted to contact CalGEM with questions multiple times with no success.

Poorly abandoned wells pose serious risks to groundwater, air quality, agriculture, wildlife spaces, and environmental justice communities – made worse by other climate and environmental disasters common in Ventura County. These wells can leak methane, an ultra-potent greenhouse gas that, when concentrated, can become a source of deadly explosions. Additionally, the research finds 34 percent of poorly abandoned wells located within groundwater basin boundaries and nearly 20 percent located within 2,500 feet of environmental justice communities.

In recent months, orphan and idle oil and gas wells have received justified media, funding, and regulatory attention. CFROG’s report encourages local and state agencies and decision-makers to recognize the full problem of legacy oil and gas infrastructure by monitoring, assessing, and considering the re-abandonment of poorly abandoned wells. The report estimates cleanup costs ranging from $7.4 million to $37.2 million and creating over 400 well-paid jobs and significant greenhouse gas emission reductions in line with Ventura County’s climate goals.

View Interactive Map Below