Kansas abandoned wells project reinvigorated, but thousands left to plug

A project coordinator estimates the state has nearly 9,000 abandoned oil and gas wells requiring attention

By: - November 7, 2023 4:28 pm
Kansas has $25 million to plug abandoned gas wells that can leak methane, polluting water and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. (Getty Images)

The state will move forward with plugging more abandoned wells, according to project coordinator. (Getty Images)

TOPEKA — The state’s efforts to plug abandoned wells are back on track after delays in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to project coordinators. 

Ryan Hoffman, conservation division director with the Kansas Corporation Commission, updated lawmakers on the well situation during a Tuesday legislative meeting. The Kansas Corporation Commission oversees the well plugging process. 

“We are moving forward,” Hoffman said. 

Wells left unplugged can pose a health and safety risk to Kansans if they are near communities. Due to leakage, abandoned wells could leak into the water supply and or release methane into the air.

Kansas began the process of sealing wells in the 1990s, using fees from  the oil and gas industry. But the program received a significant boost from federal funding in 2022, following the passage of a bipartisan infrastructure law. 

As part of the law, the White House allocated $25 million in federal funding for well plugging in the state, after analysis found Kansas has some of the largest numbers of abandoned gas wells in the United States, partly due to the state’s early boom in natural gas production. 

Hoffman said the state’s plugging program has capped 1,740 wells to date, costing about $18 million total. By the end of the project, which will be completed in early 2024, an estimated 2,500 wells will be plugged. About $6.2 million is currently left in the State Plugging Program fund. 

In fiscal year 2023, the state’s well plugging program capped 93 abandoned wells, following an influx of federal funding. Those wells came with an average cost of $6,359.64. In fiscal year 2022, 281 wells were plugged at an average cost of $7,049.20. The year prior saw 342 wells plugged, at an average cost of $6,742.46. 

Hoffman said compensation rates following the COVID-19 pandemic had caused some slowdowns. 

“The effects of COVID finally wore off and I think the industry needed the services of the contractors as well, and the prices we had entered into in that COVID period were no longer competitive, so we weren’t able to plug wells,” Hoffman said. 

Hoffman said 23 contracts have been secured in the past few months, after the program revamped its contractor recruitment process. 

Hoffman estimated the state has close to 9,000 abandoned wells left to plug.

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.