What happens when an oil well plays out, or proves to be a duster, and the owner decides to abandon it?
For one thing, it’s got to be permanently marked.
For a long time that meant erecting a metal marker post bearing well information at the surface of the hole.
But that method of memorializing abandoned wells isn’t used much anymore as many operators have moved toward a new technique that soon could become de rigueur under state law.
The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is proposing regulation changes to eliminate the use of marker posts in favor of a metal plate, at least a quarter-inch thick, welded onto the outermost casing string and buried at least three feet in the ground.
Certain information will need to be bead-welded onto the marker plate, including the name of the operator who plugged and abandoned the well, the number the commission assigned to the drilling permit, the name the operator gave the well, and the well’s API number.
Reasons for changeJim Regg, a senior petroleum engineer with the AOGCC, said existing regulations allow operators to use either a post or plate to mark abandoned wells. These days, nearly everybody is using plate markers, he said.
With the proposed regulation changes, the agency is “just cleaning up some of the language” to make plates the standard, Regg said.
Plates have the advantage of being underground, whereas the marker posts welded onto casings stick up four to six feet and can be a hazard to travelers or workers, he said.
With today’s GPS technology, locating abandoned wells should be easy and the need for a visible, above-ground marker post isn’t nearly so great, Regg said.
The state also has a desire to see the landscape as free of industrial debris as possible, he said.
Nearly 800 wells have been abandoned to surface thus far in Alaska, Regg said.
The AOGCC sends inspectors into the field to make sure abandoned wells are marked correctly.
Process for adopting regulationsThe AOGCC is taking written public comments on the proposed regulation changes until Nov. 2. For a copy of the regulations, contact Jody Colombie at 907-793-1221 or go to the agency’s Web site at www.doa.alaska.gov/ogc.
A public hearing also is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon on Nov. 19 at the AOGCC’s downtown Anchorage office.
After the public comment period ends, the three-member commission can adopt, amend or drop the proposed regulation changes.