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Orphaned Oil and Gas Well Program

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Orphaned Oil and Gas Well Program

Revised On: June 3, 2024 - 11:20 a.m.

ADEQ is working in partnership with the Arizona Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AZOGCC), and with our community and with State and private landowners to address orphaned oil and gas wells and well sites in Arizona.* Funded by a $25 million grant awarded to ADEQ on behalf of AZOGCC by the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), this multi-year program will mitigate potential safety, public health and environmental risks associated with these wells | Learn More >

Because many oil and gas wells in Arizona were drilled in the early 1900s, they pre-date current regulations and may not have been properly plugged.

In addition to the potential orphaned oil and gas wells identified during the research for the grant application, there could be more, and ADEQ encourages community members to report these wells to us so that we can further investigate them for possible inclusion in this program.*

Do you think you found an orphan oil and gas well?

Program Update

ADEQ has identified just under 200 potential orphaned oil and gas wells eligible to proceed in the program. 

As of April 2024, just over 80 of the approximate 200 potential orphaned oil and gas wells have been located in the field. These field-verified wells include confirmed orphaned wells, plugged oil and gas wells and converted water wells registered with the Arizona Department of Water Resources. 

  • AZ potential orphaned oil and gas well locations as of April 2024 | View >

In addition, ADEQ successfully plugged its first orphaned well under this program. This well was prioritized for plugging due to scheduled land redevelopment and has provided valuable information allowing the Orphaned Oil and Gas Well Program to better prepare for future orphaned well plugging activities. 

ADEQ and its contractors are continuing work in the field:

  • Physically verifying well locations and assessing conditions, 
  • Conducting cultural and environmental land surveys,
  • Performing environmental sampling that will be used to prioritize well-plugging activities, and 
  • Conducting drone magnetometer surveys to find orphaned wells that are possibly buried and to look for additional potential orphaned oil and gas wells to include in this program.

Program Phases

ADEQ’s Orphaned Oil and Gas Well Program has four phases that will be carried out over a three-year period, from October 2022 to December 2025:

Phase 1 - Site Assessment — Verify potential orphaned oil and gas wells and their program eligibility* by conducting file reviews to gather information about ownership, location, geology, etc. 

Phase 2 - Site Characterization — State contractors, who are focused on employing displaced oil and gas workers, conduct fieldwork. This includes working with landowners to access potential orphaned well sites, gather additional information about the well and area, verify well locations and conduct environmental sampling of air, soil and water (surface water and groundwater where available). If needed, ADEQ will work with the community and property owners to temporarily restrict well-site access to address public health and environmental concerns before well-plugging activities.

Phase 3 - Well Plugging — Well plugging involves placing cement into the wellbore, at appropriate depth intervals, to seal off zones, or layers, where oil or gas was found, and then placing a permanent cap on the well. Confirmation methane testing will be conducted to ensure the well is plugged correctly. ADEQ will work closely with property owners and nearby community members to coordinate well-plugging activities. 

Phase 4 - Site Remediation — If needed, ADEQ will conduct a cleanup or restoration of the landscape surrounding the plugged well to return the area to its original state. These activities may include removing affected soil, grading the surrounding landscape to match native ground cover and re-planting native species.

Frequently Asked Questions

Funded by a $25 million competitive grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Interior as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Arizona’s Orphaned Oil and Gas Well Program is working to identify, plug and properly abandon eligible orphaned oil and gas wells in Arizona. ADEQ is conducting this work in partnership with the Arizona Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (AZOGCC) to mitigate potential safety, public health and environmental risks associated with these wells.

Orphaned wells are oil and gas wells that are not plugged, not producing, and have no owner or responsible party.

Orphaned oil and gas well sites can have a broad range of appearances, from deserted oil and gas production equipment, e.g., tall metal pipes, to an open hole in the ground | View Examples >

Orphaned oil and gas wells may provide a pathway from the wellbore for oil, gas, and other fluids to move underground between different layers into groundwater and/or to the land surface. Unplugged or improperly plugged orphaned wells can also be a potential pathway for methane gas to be released into the air from the wellbore, contributing to increased levels of greenhouse gases.

Awarded in the fall of 2022, the three-year grant project is slated to be completed in December 2025. The grant project has four phases: Site Assessment, Site Characterization, Well Plugging and Site Restoration/Remediation.

ADEQ’s experienced and specialized contractors will conduct well plugging activities with our oversight. Grant funds cover all costs associated with the activities, which are provided at no cost to the landowners.

Typically, a service rig is used to plug wells based on the condition and depth of the well and the size and amount of casing in the well. Service rigs weigh about 16 tons and can stand up to 100 feet tall. Other associated equipment includes water tanks and mud pumps. All waste materials (construction debris and liquids) generated during plugging activities are disposed of at state licensed and registered non-hazardous waste disposal facilities. The contractor will talk to the landowner about the location of utilities, drain tiles, gates, and other information to determine the best access route.

For identified wells, ADEQ works with landowners to determine a plugging and abandonment schedule and gain access to conduct the work:

  1. Remove any old orphaned equipment, e.g., wellheads, pipes, electrical wiring and poles, tubing downhole, etc.
  2. To plug the well, we seal the bottom of the wellbore by installing a mechanical bridge plug at the bottom of the hole and pour 100 feet of cement, designed in compliance with state regulations, every 750 feet to the surface. 
  3. The well casing will extend 4 feet above ground level and be marked with a permanent inscription of the well location and identity.
  4. The final step is to grade and seed the well site to its original state, which is called surface reclamation. This last step is conducted as seasonal conditions allow.

Plugged & Abandoned Well Example | View/Download >

The plugging process typically takes one to six weeks, depending on the condition, depth, and contents of the well.

Using drones to confirm the exact location and depth of existing wells and gather similar information for additional potential orphaned wells allows ADEQ to cover large geographic areas much more quickly and efficiently as well as identify wells that are not visible above ground. Drones are flown with an attached magnetometer (an upgraded magnet that can detect underground well steel casing) over an approximate 40-acre area around the estimated well location | View Images >

Stay Informed

Subscribe to receive AZOGCC Orphaned Oil and Gas Well Program email updates  |  Subscribe >

*Please note, that wells located on federal or Tribal lands are not covered under the grant and therefore are not part of the program.