Facts and Fracks: Orphaned Wells in West Virginia - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Facts and Fracks: Orphaned Wells in West Virginia

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More than 13,000 wells in West Virginia haven't produced in more than a year.

Wells that go inactive for more than a year are required to be plugged.

"At some point, as the wells age, the casings break down and the concern is that those become a threat to the environment," said Julie Archer, Project Manager for the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization.

The Office of Oil and Gas through the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is in charge of enforcing that regulation.

"We already have this problem where we have a lot of wells that are unplugged, we don't have a responsible operator," Archer said.

Of those 13,000 wells, more than 4,500 are orphaned. Orphaned wells are registered to unknown operators or operators that are no longer in business.

The state is then responsible for plugging those wells.

It costs the West Virginia DEP an average of $20,000 to plug a well.

The DEP pays for those projects through a Reclamation Trust Fund. Operators pay a $100 fee per permit application. But operators can also pay a $50,000 blanket bond.

Archer said there simply aren't enough funds to carry out all of those projects.

"The amount of money in that fund only goes to plug like 10 to 20 wells per year," Archer said.

At that rate, it would take the DEP roughly 300 years to plug that many wells.

Right now, that fund is dependent on permit applications. With Marcellus Shale being the trend in permit applications, Archer fears more new wells could also mean more orphaned wells.

"With the Marcellus drilling, a lot of these operators who drilled these conventional wills can't afford to drill Marcellus drills and the problem is just going to get worse. We are going to have more and more wells that fit into that category," Archer said.

Archer also questions what will happen if and when Marcellus wells quit producing.