Nine abandoned oil wells in St. Mary Parish
Nine abandoned oil wells in St. Mary Parish are on the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources list of nearly 2,800 such wells in Louisiana that the state has listed as needing attention.
The Department scores these wells with four priority levels that range from urgent to low. Two abandoned wells in the Horseshoe Bayou Field scored 33 and were ranked in urgent need of attention by the Department. The wells are on State Lease 7968 and were owned by Stratco Operating Company, a defunct Austin, Texas, company. They were both originally put on the list in 2003.
An abandoned Atcha-falaya Bay oil well, Well No. 3 on State Lease 1593 in the Atchafalaya Bay Field, had topped the priority score in 2010 with an urgency score of 56 but subsequent observations have downgraded the score to 29 which put it at the top of the high priority level. The well was deemed an orphan well in 2005 and it remains on the state list. It had been owned by Dunhill Resources Inc., a bankrupt Houston company.
There are two other wells in the parish that are given a high priority level by the Department. There are three orphaned wells in St. Mary Parish with a moderate priority level and one with low priority level.
The DNR said abandoned oil and gas wells or, “orphaned wells,” are a problem in the state which it is addressing through the Louisiana Oilfield Site Restoration Program.
Department spokesman Patrick Courreges said the program was “created in 1993 to take care of wells for which no viable responsible party can be located, or such party has failed to maintain the well site in accordance with State rules and regulations.” He said that following a specific notification procedure, well sites are declared orphaned after being sent to the State Register to be published.
The program is set up to properly plug and abandon orphan wells in addition to properly restoring the site to approximate pre-well site conditions suitable for redevelopment. Sometimes abandoned wells in waterways do not have lights or navigational aids which make them a danger. Wells that pose a greater threat to the environment, waterways or homes are scored higher in priority to be plugged, cleaned up or lighted, Courreges said.
The Louisiana Environmental Action Network has come out with what it calls a Dirty 100 list based on a 2010 DNR document.
“The ‘Dirty 100’ are the 100 orphaned wells that are ranked as having the highest priority for the need of permanent plugging,” the Network said in a news release.
“They are leaking oil or natural gas, are currently causing an environmental problem and may also present a hazard or concern to human health and safety,” the news release said.
Two thirds of the 8,582 orphaned well sites the DNR has identified in the past 20 years have been taken off the books, with 5,750 wells removed. Last year, the Oilfield Site Restoration Program spent about $3 million to plug and clear 42 sites from the list, Courreges said.
Revenue for the Oilfield Site Restoration Program is generated from a fee on oil and gas production in the state paid by Louisiana oil and gas operators. The fee for full-rate production consists of one and one-half cents for every barrel of oil and condensate produced, and three-tenths of one cent for every thousand cubic feet of gas produced.
The fund normally collects about $4.5 million each year but Courreges said last year’s collection was about $4.2 million.
The Department of Natural Resources website said oilfield site restoration projects range in size and scope from the repair of small wellhead leaks and the removal of exploration and production related trash and debris to the plugging of wells and removal of associated facilities and structures. Orphan wells are found throughout the State in all areas where there has been historic oil and gas activity.
These sites deteriorate over time due to neglect from the operator of record and therefore become susceptible to releasing oil, gas, and saltwater to the surrounding area. The Oilfield Site Restoration Program has addressed sites near schools and public buildings, in sensitive coastal wetland areas, and near residential areas.