Kansas struggles with 22,000 abandoned oil and gas wells

While the Oklahoma Energy Resources  Board celebrates 25 years of existence and the restoration of more than 17,000 abandoned well sites in the state, Kansas isn’t so lucky.

Kansas is home to 22,000 abandoned oil and gas wells and more than 19,000 are in a 32-county part of eastern Kansas.  As a result, environmentalists and others are calling on state regulators to do something about it.

Oklahoma relies on money from the oil and gas industry to finance the cleanup of deserted wells. And in the 25 years of cleaning up those wells, the cost has totaled nearly $119 million.

In Kansas, the state pays for the cleanup The Topeka Capital Journal reports the state has capped 10,100 wells, as of 2018. But year-to-year plugging has dropped since 2002, when it peaked at 750 wells. From 2015 to 2018, the number fell to less than 300. That’s in addition to the number of abandoned wells in the state’s inventory growing by 3,000 in 2017.

The Kansas Corporation Commission’s annual reports show that a fund established in 1996 to provide money for well plugging isn’t adequately keeping pace with the demand.

Commission Chairman Dwight Keen said the agency doesn’t have the resources to hold every absconder accountable. Keen said it’s difficult to determine who’s responsible for some abandoned wells that were drilled decades ago.

Keen added that there aren’t many contractors eager to bid on well plugging work in the state.

“It’s a difficult challenge, but it is one that we will master. We have to,” Keen said. “We’re trying as many unique avenues to protect our freshwater resources.”

Joe Spease, of the Kansas Sierra Club, said the issue has worsened because of the oil and gas industry’s influence in the Legislature and on the commission. He’s demanding that regulators hold oil and gas companies accountable for the cost of plugging any well they use. Spease also recommended halting a company’s business in the state until its idle well is plugged.

“That can and must be stopped,” Spease said.

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