"Abandoned and Orphan Wells" with Jim Crompton on The Mineral Rights Podcast

March 21, 2022

In this episode, Host Matt Sands interviews Jim Crompton, oil and gas industry expert, professor at the Colorado School of Mines, owner Reflections Data Consulting, LLC, and one of our many instructors here at Top Energy Training as we work to educate regulators, inspectors, policymakers, and oil & gas industry professionals so that they can develop informed public policy and regulations around complex issues in the oil and gas industry, like orphan wells.  

The Mineral Rights Podcast

This podcast is for mineral rights owners who have questions about leasing, lease offers, drilling, taxes, production, royalties, division orders, or purchase offers. Get answers to all of your questions about mineral rights, royalty interests, leasehold interests and more!

Hosted by Matt Sands

What Matt and Jim discuss in this episode...

What are Orphan Wells

  • What are orphan wells?
  • How big is the issue?  How many orphaned wells are there in the United States?
  • For the number of wells that are classified as orphaned, how many of these are actually documented and known vs. assumed based on say a statistical analysis?
  • Let’s talk about bonding requirements with state regulators.  We’ve talked about the requirement that operators have to put up a surety bond to cover the closure of any abandoned wells should the company go bankrupt.  How much do state bonding requirements cover the plugging & abandonment of these orphan wells?
  • How much does it cost to properly P&A one of these orphan wells?
  • With all of the spending at the federal level, how much funding in things like the infrastructure bill has been set aside for closing wells?

How Oil & Gas Wells Should be Plugged & Abandoned

  • I know it varies by well but in general how are wells plugged & abandoned?
  • What type of research is going on at universities to study things like P&A or cementing optimization or novel new ways to plug and abandon wells in a more cost efficient manner?
  • What is the typical timeline for plugging & abandoning a well and removing surface equipment?  Does this process take days, weeks, months?
  • What happens when a well depletes and stops producing oil & gas in commercial quantities.  I know it varies by jurisdiction but in general, how long does a well have to be shut-in before the operator has to P&A the well (assuming they have no plans to produce in the future)? 

Environmental and Emissions Concerns with Orphan Wells

  • So I can completely understand if you are a surface owner that an orphan well on your property presents a problem because of the expense that removing the old production equipment would entail so that you could use the land again, but what kind of environmental concerns do orphan wells present?
  • How big of an issue are methane emissions from orphan wells?  How good is the methane emission data around these wells?
  • How much methane does a typical orphan well emit?
  • Where are most orphan wells located or are they pretty evenly spread across the major oil producing regions?  Which wells are the highest priority for closure; are they prioritized by methane emissions?
  • What kind of monitoring is done with orphan wells once they’ve been identified?  Do regulators require pre/post abandonment monitoring and if so, what type of data is collected?
  • What recourse do landowners have if they have an orphan well on their property?  How can they make sure it is on someone’s radar to eventually plug & abandon properly?

Future Developments

  • What are the business opportunities around orphan wells?  It seems like there is going to be an increasing demand for companies to provide services to address this issue, is this correct?
  • I know that non-profit organizations like the Well Done Foundation have started to help this issue but they aren’t plugging orphan wells to make money.
  • Whether it is good or bad I know that things like carbon cap & trade and other carbon pricing mechanisms have started to gain traction.  In fact in Episode 102 we talked about this in more detail and the fact that API came out endorsing carbon pricing for the first time in 2021.  Do you think that carbon credits of some kind will actually make it profitable to build a business around plugging & abandoning these wells by selling the credits you would get from plugging the worst methane emitting orphan wells?


About Jim Crompton

One of our many TOP Energy subject-matter experts and course creators is Jim Crompton. Jim retired from Chevron in 2013 after almost 37 years. After moving to Colorado Springs, Colorado, Jim established the Reflections Data Consulting LLC to continue his work in the area of data management and analytics for the Oil & Gas industry.  Jim was a Distinguished Lecturer for the Society of Petroleum Engineers in 2010-2011, speaking on the topic of “Putting the Focus on Data.” He graduated from the Colorado School of Mines (BS in Geophysical Engineering in 1974 and MS in Geophysics in 1976) before joining Chevron in Denver, Colorado. He later earned an MBA degree (1996) from Our Lady of the Lake University (San Antonio, Texas).

His contributions in applications of information technology to business problems, led Jim to be named a Chevron Fellow in 2002. In 2013, Jim and Dr. Dutch Holland co-authored a book titled The Future Belongs to the Digital Engineer, focusing on the issues of the impact of emerging digital technology on oil and gas operations. Jim has since authored three additional books. Jim was selected to be on the board of the SPE Digital Energy Technology Section (DETS) and serves as chair of the Digital Transformation committee under DETS. Starting January 2018, Jim teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in Petroleum Data Analytics at the Colorado School of Mines.


Watch This "Introduction To The Digital Oilfield" Presentation by Jim Cromption

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