SALEM, Ohio — Ohio landowners who have an idle or orphaned well on their property may have a greater chance of getting some relief, following recent votes by the state legislature.
The House and Senate both voted in favor of H.B. 225 — a bill that requires the Department of Natural Resources to spend at least 30 percent of the state’s Oil and Gas Well Fund on plugging orphan wells.
The bill appropriates a total of $15 million for plugging wells in fiscal year 2019, an increase of $7 million.
The House approved the final version June 7, with a vote of 50-38, and the Senate voted 32-0 in favor, May 23. The bill will now be sent to Ohio Gov. John Kasich for his consideration.
Lawmakers and the oil and gas industry were concerned that only 14 percent of the funds were being spent on plugging wells previously — and that the state was using oil and gas funds outside of their intended purpose.
Some $15 million was removed from the fund last year to help fund a legal settlement against ODNR over property damage near Grand Lake St. Marys. And additional money was taken from the fund to help with the state budget.
The state estimates there are around 700 known orphan wells — some dating back to the 1800s — which have been abandoned and are no longer producing.
Some of these wells present safety hazards because of the equipment protruding above ground, and the potential for water and environmental contamination.
These wells were drilled before modern regulations were written, and many were never properly plugged.
“Orphan wells present a big problem, not only in my district, but in 58 of Ohio’s 88 counties,” said Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, the bill’s primary sponsor. “It is one of the largest threats to groundwater quality we have, and I am happy we will be seriously addressing this issue with House Bill 225’s passage.”
According to the bill, property owners would have the opportunity to notify the ODNR about an orphan well on their property, prompting an inspection within 30 days. ODNR would then be required to assign a priority level within 60 days from inspection, and those wells designated as distressed-high priority would be required to be sealed within six months by ODNR.
The bill protects landowners from having to incur the charges associated with plugging an orphan well, and it requires the chief of the division of oil and gas resources management to report progress to the legislature.
The Ohio Oil and Gas Association said the orphan well bill “will clean up legacy issues dating back to the early 1900s, and is the single best thing the state of Ohio can do to protect the environment.”
The association also praised the Legislature’s passage of H.B. 430 — a bill which clarifies oil and gas sales tax exemptions for oil and gas production property. The Senate approved that bill June 6, with a vote of 32-1, and the House concurred June 7, 73-13.
According to ODNR, orphan wells have been found under buildings, houses and streets, as well as in lawns and recreation areas.
Some of the signs you may have an orphan well include the presence of a large diameter pipe or wellhead, an area where vegetation will not grow, the odor of crude oil or natural gas, the odor of rotten eggs, or your water well is contaminated by saltwater, crude oil or natural gas.
Related coverage: Orphan well plugging could get big boost. (March 8, 2018)
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