The Osage Minerals Council’s Orphan Well Plugging program just received a financial boost.
On July 7, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and OMC Chairman Everett Waller signed for an additional $1.1 million to go toward the pilot well plugging program that in 2018 was awarded a $3 million federal grant through the Nation’s Office of Self Governance as part of a multi-year funding agreement (MIFA).
On July 20, OMC geologist Bill Lynn gave a report on the program’s status to the 5th Osage Minerals Council.
“So far, we’ve plugged 58 wells, and since our last update at the last meeting (in June), we’ve plugged seven wells,” he said. “Right now, I’ve got four wells, permits pending. We’ve spent $2.7 million dollars, the money remaining is $347,000 and additional wells projected this year, we think we can get another 13 plugged. We should be able to use up this money this fiscal year.”
The effort, which began in 2016 when the council formed an Orphan Well Committee, has been a successful venture. According to a list from the Osage Agency BIA, there were 1,600 orphaned wells on the reservation at that time, but “there are a lot more we’re adding to that, almost daily,” Lynn said.
According to an Osage Nation press release, orphaned wells have leaked methane carbon into the atmosphere for years. Through leases provided by the BIA, oil and gas drillers have come to the Osage Reservation in search of profit but left an environmental hazard.
The average cost of plugging an abandoned well can range between $40,000 to $70,000. In past reports, Councilman Paul Revard said some of the wells have unusual conditions like collapsed casing, junk in the well, and improper plugging. Producers have tried to use tree stumps and mud to plug the wells, which obviously didn’t work.
A lot of work goes into plugging a well, Revard said. A field crew must first re-establish a road to the well, rig up a “workover rig” over the abandoned well, and determine the depth of the well. Then the crew must pump cement into the punctured producing zones and any casing leaks identified, then the well casing is cut off below plow depth, capped and covered with native soil. The objective is to protect the freshwater zones and zones capable of producing oil and gas in the immediate area.
Councilman Talee Redcorn, who has helped with the well plugging efforts from its outset in 2016, said the program’s success is due in large part to the dedicated Osages working on the wells.
“I think the benefit of this program, is we got Osages out there, in the field and they sometimes have a different viewpoint of what’s going on out there than what we hear from outsiders,” Redcorn said. “These guys have been out in the field for 30-something years, and they’re Osage and they’re shareholders. That knowledge has been very beneficial.”
The plugging of orphaned wells also goes hand in hand with the ongoing environmental survey of the Osage Nation’s ranch, which Standing Bear has said putting the ranch into trust is of “paramount importance” to growing the Nation’s sovereignty.
Standing Bear told the Osage News in July that the United States has been hesitant to accept the ranch land because of the environmental damages inflicted on the land over the past 120 years or so. The BIA estimated cleaning up the land would cost $40 million while another estimate came in at $23 million.
The OMC’s well-plugging program aids in this effort, but that’s not the entire purpose of the program. The council currently oversees more than 135,000 acres of trust and restricted lands in Osage County, according to the release.