Idle Production Wells

Valuable resources for achieving California’s energy needs

Maintaining existing resources prevents need for new infrastructure

  • Idle production wells are oil or gas wells that are not currently being used in production, but the state’s energy producers maintain these wells because they may serve other beneficial uses now or in the future.
  • In California, the Public Resources Code defines an idle well as any well that has not produced oil or natural gas or has not been used for injection for six consecutive months of continuous operation during the last five or more years.
  • Idle wells are located on existing production fields throughout the state, primarily in California’s Central Valley.
  • Well operators elect wells to be inactive for a number of reasons, but the primary reason is economic.
  • Well productions can be impacted by business decisions, shifting resources, or levels of production.
  • Inactive or idle wells are often a valuable resource, reflecting significant investments in existing infrastructure maintained by operators for repurposing.
  • Reactivating an idle well may prove to be more efficient and environmentally sound than drilling a new well as it uses existing infrastructure and requires less land surface.
  • Idle wells can also be used to serve important monitoring needs.
  • Once a well has been plugged to state requirements, shifting the well’s status from idle to plugged and abandoned, the well may no longer serve current or future energy production needs.

The existing regulatory framework ensures idle well integrity, protects the environment

  • The California Department of Conservation’s Department of Conservation’s Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGem) and the State Water Resources Control Board, in coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recently inventoried all of California’s approximately 50,000 wells, compiled an unprecedented amount of information and found no evidence that public water supplies have been contaminated.
  • CalGem operates and oversees the state’s idle well program.
  • CalGem maintains and makes available to the public an idle well inventory to track the number of idle wells in the state.
  • Existing regulations are structured in a way that encourages operators to reactivate or plug and abandon idle wells.
  • The existing regulatory framework requires operators of idle wells to conduct regular tests to ensure protection of groundwater supplies and the integrity of the well. Depending on the type of the well, an idle-well integrity test may be as simple as a fluid-level survey or may be a more complicated well-casing mechanical integrity test.
  • In order to operate an idle well, energy producers must put forward bond funding and pay annual fees to fund the ongoing review and oversight of the state’s idle well program.
  • This funding also goes to pay for plugging historic wells that do not have a current operator.
  • Now, some in the state legislature want to force companies to plug idle wells – rather than maintain and reuse existing wells, upending the functioning regulatory framework.

Regulations that allow a flexible approach for idle well operations protect the environment, economy

  • Because maintaining idle wells is an environmentally-sound and cost-effective approach to energy production, the state’s legislators and regulators should continue to protect the practice.
  • California’s energy producers currently operate and maintain approximately 20,000 idle wells – forcing a larger number of wells to be plugged would not benefit California’s environment or economy. Idle wells provide an ideal foundation for redevelopment of California’s prolific energy resources.
  • Requiring the state’s energy producers to plug more wells could have detrimental impacts, particularly during periods of economic downturn such as those currently experienced by producers.
  • Rather than requiring more wells to be plugged, an alternative approach to expanding regulations would be to consider more frequent testing to demonstrate well integrity – further ensuring that the idle well program continues to protect groundwater supplies and the environment.

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