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NY Completes First Orphan Well Plugging Project


The first gas well safely plugged with funding from a $25 million federal grant to New York State through the landmark Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is complete. New York State is working with landowners to plug aging and abandoned oil and natural gas wells to protect public safety, help reduce methane and other greenhouse gas emissions, and protect ground and surface waters.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which administers the well-plugging program for the state, worked closely with New York State’s Office of General Services (OGS) to expedite contracts to meet the appropriate grant award timelines for well-plugging primarily in western, central, and northern regions of New York State. These regions were drilled for oil and gas starting in the 19th century before New York State’s stringent regulatory programs existed and were often in remote locations.

The first completed orphaned well-plugging project using federal funding is located behind a shopping plaza on heavily traveled State Route 16 in the Erie County town of Holland. The well was initially drilled in the early 1960s and sat abandoned for decades, leaking methane. Plugging efforts were completed last month. Additional orphaned well-plugging projects are also now underway or will begin soon, throughout Upstate New York, including in more than three dozen towns across nine counties. Work to plug the wells includes preparing project plans and securing access agreements with participating landowners, followed by field operations to plug wells and restore the affected surrounding land.

“Abandoned oil and gas wells across New York State have the potential to threaten our air, water, and land – potentially hazardous reminders of the damages wrought by fossil fuels on the environment, human health and property,” Governor Hochul said. “The historic investments being made by the Biden Administration are enabling our state to work with the Department of the Interior to bolster New York’s existing well-plugging efforts that will locate and plug even more of these aged and abandoned wells for the benefit of our climate and the protection of our environment and communities.”

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “This milestone illustrates DEC’s progress in successfully plugging orphaned oil and gas wells with the historic funding provided through the BIL. Abandoned wells present a risk to surface and groundwater, and unplugged wells emit methane, a known contributor to climate change. I am thankful to the Biden Administration and the U.S. Department of the Interior for recognizing the importance of this issue, and to the landowners throughout New York who are coming forward to reduce risks to our environment as we aim to meet our climate agenda targets.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “Communities in Western New York and across Upstate New York have been plagued by orphaned oil and gas wells for decades – creating hidden hazards that can seep pollution into our backyards, drinking water sources, and communities. Now, thanks to $25 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure & Jobs Law, that I led to passage, the first natural gas well has safely been plugged in Erie County. This milestone is the first step of many to finally confront these long-standing environmental hazards and plug hundreds of wells across Upstate NY, and I am proud to have delivered the critical federal funding to make this project possible and to help our municipalities clean up their communities from the remnants of the fossil fuel industry.”

Since 2013, DEC has worked with property owners to plug more than 400 wells across the state. DEC’s work on abandoned wells in New York indicates that thousands of additional wells may continue emitting methane gas into the atmosphere and present risks to the environment.

Before orphaned wells can be plugged, they need to be located. DEC staff use historic oil and gas documents like academic and industry publications and old lease maps to track down many orphaned wells, but discussions with landowners and long-time residents across the state are also invaluable.

New York State invites and encourages landowners to participate in New York State’s well-plugging program. With $25 million in federal BIL funds secured to complete well-plugging projects, DEC is interested in reaching interested landowners to participate in this voluntary program conducted at no cost to the landowner.

Landowners who suspect an orphaned well may be located on their property should review the information on DEC’s website Finding and Identifying Oil and Gas Wells. Landowners will also find contact information for DEC’s regional offices to report the well for placement on DEC’s well-plugging priority list.

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