Reducing Environmental Risk

The dangers posed by abandoned oil and gas wells in New York

On Behalf of | May 12, 2024 | ENVIRONMENTAL LAW - Oil & Gas

New York isn’t traditionally associated with oil and gas wells – certainly not as much as states like Texas and Oklahoma are. However, there are a number of them – particularly in western New York. According to the New York Department of Conservation (DEC), approximately 2,400 of them are abandoned.

Abandoned wells are unplugged wells that are not maintained as laws or other regulations require. Many of them “have fallen into advanced states of disrepair,” according to the DEC. More abandoned wells are discovered all the time – sometimes when someone buys the land they’re on and sometimes by campers, hikers or other outdoors people. The DEC has also started using drones to locate abandoned wells so they can be plugged.

These abandoned, unplugged wells can be dangerous for several reasons. The potential for oil, gas and other liquids to “migrate between different geologic formations, into aquifers, and/or to the land surface” is a significant concern. Methane is particularly dangerous if it gets into the atmosphere because it creates greenhouse gases.

When is an abandoned well considered “orphaned?”

If the state can’t determine who owns an abandoned well, it’s considered “orphaned.” These wells generally date back more than a century before they were regulated. Because of their age, they “present significant threats to public safety and the environment,” according to the DEC.

The DEC plugs these abandoned wells when they’re found. State law allows the DEC to take possession of a well temporarily so that it can be plugged (or replugged). Millions of dollars have been allocated by the state for this work, which is ongong. Contractors registered with the DEC can bid on individual well-paying jobs, which must be done in accordance with state law.

The state takes the environmental and other safety issues associated with abandoned oil and gas wells seriously. If you’re facing fines or other penalties for an abandoned well or have questions or concerns about the plugging of a well on your property, it’s wise to get experienced legal guidance as soon as possible to protect your rights.



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