How a Landowner Can Identify and Get Help Fixing an Orphaned Well 

Orphaned wells are abandoned oil or gas wells without a responsible owner to manage their maintenance or proper closure. These wells can pose significant environmental and safety hazards, including: 

  • Groundwater contamination from hydrocarbons seeping into the ground. Contamination can poison groundwater for inhabitants, livestock, or agricultural purposes, putting livelihoods at risk and causing significant harm.  
  • Methane emissions which are a significant greenhouse gas that poses an explosion risk if allowed to collect within an enclosed space.  
  • Surface subsidence which can put vehicles, people, and buildings at risk from sudden sinkholes. 

Landowners can identify orphaned wells on their property by looking for several signs. There might be visual clues in the form of a rusty and deteriorated structure protruding from the ground. Old equipment or mechanical debris will often surround this area, giving the landowner another indication an orphaned well is present. There may be unusual depressions or sinkholes in the area, indicating subsidence from underground cavities due to previous extractions. 

The presence of dead or discolored vegetation can signal leaking hydrocarbons or other contaminants, so landowners should investigate their vegetation and look for any odd patches, especially if the neighboring areas are vibrant. Other signs include gases or liquids that might bubble to the surface, strange noises that sound like pressure releasing, or strong gas or rotten egg smelling odors due to released hydrocarbons.  

Landowners should also review historical property records, which may include information on previous oil or gas drilling activities. Consulting with local regulatory agencies can provide further insights, as they often maintain databases of known orphaned wells. 

If an orphaned well is suspected, landowners can contact these agencies to report their findings and seek guidance on securing and remediating the site. They should also reach out to the Well Done Foundation (WDF) for our five-step process for orphaned well management. This includes identifying orphaned wells through various methods, qualifying the field conditions, an adoption process where the WDF takes over the well from the state, monitors it, and funds a campaign for plugging and remediating the well. The final stage includes long-term monitoring, habitat restoration of the surrounding area and carbon offset initiatives.  

Identifying and addressing orphaned wells is crucial for maintaining land safety and environmental integrity. Reducing the impacts of these wells is the core mission of the WDF, a 501 © (3) nonprofit organization that strives to reduce methane emissions and restore habitat.