The EPI Center hosted a virtual workshop to bring together scientific researchers, industry, state regulators and community advocates to identify the most pressing concerns related to orphaned and improperly abandoned oil and natural gas wells. Topics included methane emissions and other environmental and human health risks, proper well plugging and abandonment practices, financial mechanisms, regulatory and bonding reform, as well as areas of uncertainty requiring additional research. The workshop was part of the AAAS EPI Center’s initiative on hydraulic fracturing. To learn more about this initiative and get involved, contact Sarah Solomon.
Find a transcript of the workshop below.
- Dr. Mary Kang, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics, McGill University
- Uduak-Joe Ntuk, California State Oil and Gas Supervisor, California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM)
- Seth Pelepko, Environmental Program Manager, Bureau of Oil and Gas Planning and Program Management, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
- Luke Plants, Chief Operating Officer, Plants & Goodwin Inc.
- Daniel Raimi, Senior Research Associate, Resources for the Future; Lecturer, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan
- Dr. Seth Shonkoff, Executive Director, PSE Healthy Energy; Visiting Scholar, University of California – Berkeley; and Affiliate, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
Additional Resources Recommended by Panelists
State programs and assessments
- Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Legacy Well Website
- Beattie et al., “Pennsylvania Legacy Well Integrity and Emissions Study” Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection presentation to the Geological Society of America, 2017 [abstract and poster]
- “Abandoned and Orphan Oil and Gas Wells in Pennsylvania” Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection presentation to the Climate Change Advisory Committee, October 2020 [slides]
- “PIOGATECH Well Plugging Workshop: Well Plugging Regulatory Viewpoint” Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection presentation to the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association, 2019 [slides]
- “Orphan Wells in California: An Initial Assessment of the State’s Potential Liabilities to Plug and Decommission Orphan Oil and Gas WellsCalifornia Council on Science & Technology,
Characterization of methane emissions from orphaned and abandoned wells
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Greenhouse Gas Inventory, 2019
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Greenhouse Gas Inventory, 2020
- Kang et al., “Effective Permeabilities of Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells: Analysis of Data from Pennsylvania” Environmental Science & Technology, 2015
- Kang et al., “Direct measurements of methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania” Proceedings of the Nation Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2014
- Kang et al., “Identification and characterization of high methane-emitting abandoned oil and gas wells” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2016
- Kang et al., “Reducing methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells: Strategies and costs” Energy Policy, 2019
Examining potential impacts
- Garcia-Gonzales et al., “Hazardous Air Pollutants Associated with Upstream Oil and Natural Gas Development: A Critical Synthesis of Current Peer-Reviewed Literature” Annual Review of Public Health, 2019
Emerging technologies to detect unmapped abandoned wells
- Kaminski et al., “Geophysical helicopter-based magnetic methods for locating wells” Geophysics, 2018
- Saint-Vincent et al., “Identifying Abandoned Well Sites Using Database Records and Aeromagnetic Surveys “ Environmental Science & Technology, May 2020
Effects of increasing bond levels on company’s drilling decisions
- Boomhower, “Drilling Like There's No Tomorrow: Bankruptcy, Insurance, and Environmental Risk
- Lange and Redlinger,Effects of stricter environmental regulations on resource development
Research on state financial assurance requirements
- Ho et al., Managing Environmental Liability: An Evaluation of Bonding Requirements for Oil and Gas Wells in the United States
Administrative challenges for scaling up plugging programs
- Raimi and Lemphers, “Look Before You Leap: Three Governance Challenges for Taxpayer-Funded Cleanup of Oil and Gas Wells” Resources Magazine, September 2020
Considering a major federal plugging program
- Raimi, Nerurkar, and Bordoff, “Green Stimulus for Oil and Gas Workers: Considering a Major Federal Effort to Plug Orphaned and Abandoned Wells” joint report from Resources for the Future and the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, May 2020
Statistics on U.S. and Canadian orphaned wells
- “Idle and Orphan Oil and Gas Wells: State and Provincial Regulatory Strategies” Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), 2019
- “Idle and Orphan Oil and Gas Wells: Stave and Provincial Regulatory Strategies Supplemental Information” Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), May 2020
0:02:50:>>REBECCA AICHER: Welcome and thank you all for joining us today. We're here for a webinar entitled "Regulators, Industry And Communities: Analyzing The Challenges Of Improperly Abandoned And Orphaned Wells." I'm Rebecca Aicher, a project director with the AAAS Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues. And we are hosting this workshop today, and we thank you all for joining us. Next slide. AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is the world's largest general scientific society. We have nearly 250 affiliated societies. We're the publisher of the journal Science. And we're also very proud to have over 3,000 alumni of the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship all contributing to what we call a force for science. Next slide. The AAAS EPI Center was created in 2018 as a part of AAAS. The effort is to help provide scientific evidence to decision-makers, which is why we're all gathered today to talk about this important issue. At the EPI Center, we work to provide clear, concise and actionable scientific evidence to policymakers. We want to make it easier for them to access scientific evidence and information and then integrate that evidence into their policymaking processes. We are working on a number of issues in 2020 and into 2021, and this is just one of those issues. So, again, we are talking today about improperly abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells. And we're excited to start getting into the actual workshop. So next slide. Many of you have been working for some time on understanding the challenges around orphaned and improperly abandoned wells. We're excited to hear from many different perspectives, including scientific researchers, industry experts, regulators, financial and legal experts. And we're encouraging all of you to ask questions and share your perspective with us throughout this webinar and moderated panel discussion. Next slide. Our main - sorry, back one. Our main goal of the workshop is to foster a discussion between scientific researchers, industry experts, nongovernmental organization and decision-makers to address the challenges that we're discussing today. And this panel discussion will be recorded and posted to the EPI Center's website along with additional research - resources that our panelists have shared with us. And we look forward to an interesting and exciting discussion with all of you. Next slide. I'm going to now pass this over to Abby, Abby Dilley from Resolve. And she will walk us through the agenda and help us get started with the exciting part of the actual panel.
0:06:14:>>ABBY DILLEY: Thank you, Rebecca. So, as Rebecca mentioned, the primary goal of this webinar is to engage a wide variety of experts and expertise in highlighting key pieces of information and frequently asked questions around improperly abandoned and orphaned wells. And the way we are organizing this approximately 70-minute webinar is through, first, a series of two panels, three panelists each. And they'll have an opportunity to present some information from their perspective and expertise. And then we will pause briefly after each of the panelists have gone in the first panel and take some questions for clarification - not getting into the issues themselves quite yet but just for questions of clarification or anything technical that you wanted to clarify in their comments. And then we will move to panel two for their presentations and, similarly, a short period of time for questions of clarification. And then we'll move into - approximately, a 20-minute session, a moderated or facilitated discussion with all the panelists engaged. And we will have the opportunity to kick that session off with a question directly to the panelists. They can certainly ask each other questions, but we also encourage those of you who are participating to use the Q&A function of Zoom. And you'll see that down in about the center of your screen at the lower part of your screen. And you can add a question. We also are encouraging people to look at some of the questions. And if it's a question that you're particularly interested in asking, you can click on a little thumbs-up icon. And that will prioritize the question higher for panelists to answer, the intent to be just really trying to respond to your interests and questions to this outstanding panel. As far as other protocols, we're obviously trying to get quite a bit of information on the table as we go. So we have limited time for each of the panelists themselves. But, hopefully, through the moderated session, we'll have more opportunity to get at these - at a wider variety of information and what those of you who are participating this want to know. We also request that you just keep your questions brief so that we can get to as many as we possibly can. And just another reminder that this is a recorded session. So with that, I want to introduce our first set of panelists. We have three panelists. Dr. Mary Kang, who's the assistant professor of civil engineering and applied mechanics at McGill University - her main research areas are groundwater hydrology and environmental impacts of subsurface-based energy development. Today, she will be sharing her expertise related to methane emissions from abandoned or orphaned oil and gas wells. Luke Plants is one of our other panelists. He's the chief operating officer of Plants and Goodwin, which is the largest orphan well plugging contractor in the northeastern United States since 2017. Luke will be sharing his expertise in addressing the unique challenges posed by decommissioning orphaned wells. And our third panelist on this first panel is Daniel Raimi, who's a senior research associate at Resources for the Future and a lecturer at the University of Michigan - go Blue - works on energy policy issues, including oil and gas regulation and taxation. And, today, he will be highlighting policy options for orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells. So with that, I will turn to Mary for our first presentation.
0:10:16:>>MARY KANG: Hi. Thank you for the introduction. Today, I'll be talking about methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells. You can see in the background pictures of some abandoned wells. And these were mainly taken in Pennsylvania. But I just want to point out they all look quite different. Next slide, please. So there are an estimated more than 2 1/2 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States alone. So in the map to your right, you'll see in the orange dots oil and gas wells that are onshore. So these are actually all oil and gas wells that include abandoned but also active wells. So you could see that they're concentrated in certain areas. For example, you see a lot in Texas. In Texas, there's actually - 22% of the wells are in Texas, followed by 15% in Pennsylvania, 11% in Kansas, 10% in West Virginia, 7% in Oklahoma, 6% in Louisiana, 5% in California and so forth. And the colors in the pie chart that you see there match the colors of the states and the map to your - to the left. This picture also shows Canada. And as you can see, most of the wells are concentrated in Alberta to 67% of the wells. There's quite a few wells in Saskatchewan as well at 20% and some in British Columbia, 5%, Ontario, 4%. But, of course, beyond Canada and the U.S., there are abandoned wells around the world where there are oil and gas production. Next slide, please. So in the previous slide, I said - I mentioned the words abandoned and active. Well, what does that mean? Well, the definition of abandoned oil and gas wells varies among state, provinces and territories. So there's variations among subnational organizations, and, of course, there's variations between countries. So the definition that I'm going to use today is a broad definition. And it's the one that's been made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And this is what's stated in the greenhouse - in their greenhouse gas inventory. So the term abandoned wells encompasses various types of wells. Wells with no recent production and not plugged - common terms might include inactive, temporarily abandoned, shut-in, dormant and idle. Wells with no recent production and no responsible operator - common terms include orphaned, deserted, long-term idle and abandoned. And abandoned here includes wells that have been plugged to prevent migration of gas or fluids. Next slide, please. And so this workshop is about orphaned wells, so I just wanted to highlight what orphaned wells are a little bit more. So orphaned wells broadly are abandoned wells without a responsible party available. But there are slight definitions - variation in definitions between states, provinces and territories. The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission reports that there are 56,600 documented orphaned wells. It - but if we include undocumented wells, there are likely to be a lot more. Next slide, please. So abandoned wells - abandoned oil and gas wells in particular are what we're talking about here - are subsurface leakage pathways. So this is what you'd see if you take a slice through the Earth. You would see different layers of rocks containing different types of fluids. So an abandoned well would connect deformations containing oil and gas and groundwater aquifers and all the way to the surface, especially if they're not plugged. So in this presentation, what I'm going to show you are results of methane emissions that are made at the ground surface, so they include gas emissions coming right from the casing annulus areas or even just outside in the nearby soils. Next slide, please. So this is - this shows the results of one of my first studies on abandoned wells. And these are measurements made in Pennsylvania at 19 wells. What you see - each individual bar represents a methane flow rate measurement. On the Y-axis is the methane flow rate. And I just want to note - these are - they're logarithmic, so it's orders of magnitude variation you're seeing here. So positive values mean methane emissions to the atmosphere. Negative values mean methane sinks from the atmosphere. So the red and the orange lines represent plugs - represent wells. The red bars represent unplugged wells. And the orange wells - orange bars represent plugged wells. And as you can see, they're kind of mixed in, but the highest ones are generally the unplugged wells, the red ones. But there's quite a bit of variation. There's at least seven orders of magnitude variation in methane emission rates from abandoned wells. And the green bars represent control, so there are measurements made a few meters away depending on site conditions. And as you can see, there is a variation there, too. But in general, they're much lower than the emission rates - emissions coming out of the wells and often orders of magnitude lower. Next slide, please. So if you put all this together, important point here is that high emitters govern emission factors and total emissions. And that's because of the orders of magnitude variation in emission rates that we observed. A key here is that the median is very far from the mean, which means that the flow rates are extremely distributed, with a few high emitters controlling most of the emissions. So next slide, please. So which wells are - what are the characteristics of these high emitters? To answer that question, I went back to Pennsylvania and measured 88 wells. So, here, I'm only showing wells. And each well represents - can be an average of multiple measurements. And I don't show any controls here. So, again, the Y-axis represents the methane flow rate with positive values representing methane emissions to the atmosphere and negative values representing a sink of methane from the atmosphere. In general, most of them are positive. There's few below - BD represents below detection. But, again, orders of magnitude variation. And just - you know, if you looked at the plugged section, you can see that the highest one is just under 10 to the 4. But if you look at the unplugged bars, it's up to 10 to the 5. So in general, plugged wells do emit less than unplugged ones. So this is in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, there's this unique category of wells that are plugged and vented by regulation. So these plugged wells in coal areas are required to be vented by regulation. And these wells emit just as much as the unplugged wells, as you can see. Another thing I want to point out are the colors of the bars. There are some blue ones and some red ones. So the blue ones represent gas wells and the red bars represent oil or combined oil and gas wells. And as you can see, the highest ones are almost always blue. So gas - so high emitters are gas wells that are unplugged or plugged and vented. Next slide, please. So that brings me to the end of the talk. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to take them. Thank you for your attention.
0:18:56:>>ABBY DILLEY: Thank you so much, Mary. And now we'll turn to Luke Plants.
0:19:01:>>LUKE PLANTS: Yeah, thank you. So it's really an honor to be here, be speaking about this from more of a on-the-ground tactical perspective as a contractor who plugs orphaned wells each and every day. So one thing that I would like to talk about is the unique challenges that are found more from a qualitative point of view in plugging orphan wells. And when I say unique, I mean that in the manner that - as opposed to a well that has just recently been made inactive by a producer and operator who would then hire a contractor like myself to come in and to decommission their well. These present a different set of challenges. The first of those sets is the site access challenges. So the equipment that's required on ground sort of a bare minimum is a service rig, usually truck-mounted, a work string that you would to pump your cement slurry through, pipe racks to hold that work string, plus any recovered pipe that comes out of the well, a circulation tank for your drilling fluids, a freshwater tank for which to mix your cement slurry, and then, finally, a cement pump. This is not to say anything about pickups for hand tools, tool trailers for other things like your power tongs, power swivels or mud pumps if it's required to mill on this well. So at sort of a minimum look, you're looking at approximately 5,000 square feet of required area to be able to set up on a well. So, obviously, many orphaned wells are out in the forest in areas that would be tough to access with an ATV let alone this heavy equipment. So quite a bit of site construction that's required to access them. But more importantly are sort of the priority candidates, as I would call them, the ones that work in wells that are located in residential areas, more heavily populated areas where maybe it's required that you move some high-voltage electric lines, that you disassemble somebody's garage in order to get to these wells. So site access on an orphaned well can be extremely challenging. The second thing that I think is unique to orphaned wells is there are certain intervention challenges that you don't generally face on a well that has been produced. There could be poor to nonexistent well records, which is sort of like asking somebody to build a house without any blueprints. There's loss of casing integrity that happens after years and years of dormancy. And any sort of intervention efforts during these situations could lead to a loss of well control, which could potentially hurt or kill the crew that is working on the well. Or it could pollute an aquifer, could cause communication with other orphan wells in the area. And then, finally, also generally, when something has been exposed to the atmosphere for a very long period of time without any active producing going on, there ends up being downhole obstructions that prevent us from getting to bottom with a work string and getting a cement slurry across those deepest-producing formations. So then you're looking at things like fishing and milling in order to get that access to bottom. So, finally, obviously, there are a lot more problems than just these unique to orphan wells. But just to touch on a few - and waste stream management is not solely in the realm of orphan wells. But I think it's a problem that the scope of which is not well understood from a 10,0000-foot view. So every drop of water that is used during the plugging operation that comes back out of the well has to be taken to a water treatment facility or an injection well. Most of these water treatment facilities, particularly in the northeast, are zero discharge, which means - what? - the water is being treated and then reused on fracking operations. So, again, in a low-commodity price environment where there is very little fracking going on, most of these treatment facilities are at capacity. We found ourselves often trucking water 14 or 15 hours from the job site just to find a home for it after the well has been plugged. The same sort of logistical nightmares exist for solid waste streams, particularly when you get some crude oil, cement returns, drill cuttings, all of these things that then become characteristically hazardous. Analytics have to be run on them. You have to be - you have to store them off-site until the analytics can be returned and then maybe potentially downblended and sent to a landfill. So quite a bit of work that is outside of what you might consider the scope of a plug and abandonment contractor. So, yeah, just one quick slide kind of going over the quick and dirty of problems with orphan well decommissioning. And I'd be happy to take your questions in the panel afterwards.
0:24:24:>>ABBY DILLEY: Thank you so much, Luke. And we will get to some questions. There are a couple that are coming in in the Q&A channel. And for those of you who may have joined late, please do use that Q&A channel to submit some questions. Our last panelist on this first panel is Daniel Raimi. And I'll turn to you next, Daniel.
0:24:47:>>DANIEL RAIMI: Thank you, Abby. Good afternoon, everyone. It's an honor to be here with you and to present with this really great group of folks. It's also great to see so many attendees, many of whom's names I recognize. And it's nice to see them. I am a little sick today. I have a bad cough. So if I cough, I apologize. I can assure you that I tested negative for COVID, but I did test positive for having a 2-year-old in day care, which is the cause of my cough. So I'm going to talk a little bit about some of the policy options that we might consider to address some of the problems we've just heard about from our previous two presentations. We can go to the next slide, please. First, I don't need to spend too much time on this, as Mary covered it really, nicely. But it's helpful to understand the scale of the challenge. As Mary said, there are several million abandoned wells across the U.S. Many of these have been properly plugged and abandoned but, of course, many others have not, likely on the order of millions of wells. State and federal policies often do not provide adequate incentives for companies to properly decommission these wells. So a failure of policy is one of the reasons that is driving this number of wells. It's not the only one, but it's one of them. One of the main challenges here is that state governments and the federal government as well when we're talking about federal lands - they have financial assurance requirements that require operators to post bonds or other financial instruments to pay for the costs of well decommissioning if those companies go bankrupt. However, those financial assurance levels are often well-below the actual cost that it takes to plug a well. Decommissioning costs can range from a couple thousand dollars in the case of a very simple well, a shallow simple well. But they can also range on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars per well. I've been collecting data recently on well plugging costs. And there are some that are in the range of $300,000 to $400,000 per well. So when you look at state financial assurance requirements, they have something called a blanket bond level, which allows operators to cover every well within a given state. And you can see some of these states have quite high blanket bond levels - Alaska, $30 million, California, $3 million. But then we start looking at states like Colorado, Kansas, Texas or Wyoming, and you can see that the level of financial assurance might be enough to plug one expensive well. So if this financial assurance requirement is meant to cover 10, a hundred, even a thousand wells within a given state, it becomes very clear very quickly that these financial assurance requirements are not always sufficient to cover the true costs of decommissioning. As a result of these insufficient financial requirements, when energy prices fall - as they have, recently - more companies tend to enter bankruptcy. We've seen this. And the population of orphan wells tends to increase. There's not a running tally of the number of orphan wells in states. The IOGCC has done a great job of collecting this data on an annual or semiannual basis. But we do have anecdotal evidence. And in North Dakota, for example, just this year when the oil price fell dramatically - associated with the COVID-19 pandemic - the state went from having zero wells to dozens of orphan wells in just a manner of weeks. And so this is an issue that happens every time there is essentially a bust cycle in the industry. And we can expect the challenge to grow as time goes on, especially if we're thinking about a long-term transition away from oil and gas over the coming decades. We can go to the next slide, please. So here are a few policy options to think about for state regulators as well as their federal and tribal counterparts. I'm not necessarily recommending any of these options, but these are all things that I think are worth putting on the table. First and most obviously, increasing the financial assurance requirements that I just talked about to reflect the true decommissioning costs associated with plugging and remediating these well sites. Different levels of assurance might be appropriate for different well types. It might be appropriate to have a different level of financial assurance for a 500-foot vertical conventional well than a 10,000-foot horizontal lateral well. In addition, there's an interesting question as to whether new financial assurance standards can be applied not just to new wells, but also perhaps to some existing wells. I'd be interested to hear from some of our legal experts in the audience as to whether that's a at least theoretically possible avenue. One important point here is that some of these efforts to increase financial assurance requirements could be politically difficult. But it's worth keeping in mind that there are at least two recent empirical studies that show increasing bonding requirements in Texas, Montana - Texas and Montana had no appreciable effects on decisions for companies to drill new wells. A second option is to introduce fees or standards. California has recently taken an approach like this. I think we'll hear more about that from Uduak-Joe Ntuk in the next session. So operators could pay a fee for each inactive well that they maintain in their backlog. Similarly, operators could be required to work down that backlog of inactive wells over time so that the costs are borne by the operators rather than borne by taxpayers. A third option, and one that's been discussed recently, and that I've contributed to, is an idea of the federal government or perhaps state governments spending stimulus money to essentially provide a down payment on plugging wells. This is an attractive option, particularly if our goal is to get oil and gas workers back to work quickly. But it's not really a sustainable option for dealing with this problem in the long term. Without policy reform, this option has the potential to induce moral hazard risk. And in addition, scaling up a program like this very rapidly to try to address 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 wells could introduce some real administrative bottlenecks. We can go to the next slide. And now one final point to consider is that when we're thinking about how many wells we should or should not plug to deal with this problem, we need to think about balancing costs and benefits. This might be obvious, but looking forward, it probably doesn't make sense to try to plug every single abandoned or orphaned well that exists. With millions of wells potentially in scope, we're going to need to prioritize. Second, benefits and costs vary across wells. As Mary illustrated so nicely, some wells emit a large amount of methane, and others emit very little or are even methane sinks. And so it's important to think about trying to address the wells that contribute to the largest amount of the problem. In addition, some well sites are costly to decommission. Others are much cheaper. So as we're thinking about how to address this problem, we need to think about balancing the costs and benefits. And to inform those decisions, I think it's going to be very important over the coming months and years to get better information about which wells and which sites pose the greatest environmental and health risks, whether we're talking about methane, groundwater pollution, local air pollution or other hazards. And in addition, we need better information about how much it costs to decommission different types of wells and different types of sites. We have some data on this, but I think there's a lot more work that can be done. And myself as well as some colleagues in RFF are currently putting together some data to try to answer this question. So I'll stop there. Thank you very much for your attention, and look forward to the conversation. Thank you.
0:32:27:>>ABBY DILLEY: Thank you so much to all of our panelists. We do have a few questions that have come in on Q&A. And, of course, you can ask each other some questions. The first one, I'm going to go to you, Luke, and - Luke and Mary, if you would turn on your camera? The question is a two-part one. How do orphaned wells compare to wells that companies have simply decided to plug and are perhaps contracting you to do the plugging? Are plugging costs different for those different kinds of wells?
0:32:56:>>LUKE PLANTS: Yeah. So I think I touched on it a little bit, but for the most part, orphaned wells - a well that has remained dormant, the more years that it sits dormant and unproduced, the larger the cost goes. And I can't say whether that's an exponential curve or a linear curve. I don't study that sort of thing. But a well that has recently been produced, is simply no longer economical to produce, typically has pretty good access to it, typically does not experience the same obstructions to access the bottom. So it's definitely significantly cheaper to plug a well that was recently active as opposed to one that has been dormant for quite some time.
0:33:40:>>ABBY DILLEY: Great. Thank you. Mary, a question for you. Could you explain a little bit more mechanically how a well operates as a methane sink?
0:33:51:>>MARY KANG: So it wouldn't necessarily be the methane, but it's well known that - so it's not all of them. So when I do the measurements, they're not necessarily just at the wellhead. It's - I'm also capturing the soil around the well by the design of the measurements. And we know that natural environments, some soils are methane sinks to the atmosphere because of methanotrophic activity. So there are microbial - microbes that eat methane. And, you know, they also take it from the methane in the soil pores and - which are connected to the atmosphere. Does that answer your question?
0:34:34:>>ABBY DILLEY: I bet they'll come back to you in the Q&A if it doesn't. So thank you. And then also more of a comment, perhaps, Daniel, but someone noted that California just changed its blanket bond level to 30 million last year and wondered if you are aware of that.
0:34:55:>>DANIEL RAIMI: Yeah, I think that was on my slide, actually - California. Oh, no. I had California listed at 3 million, didn't I? Thank you for that note. I will take a look.
0:35:04:>>ABBY DILLEY: (Laughter) Dropped a few zeroes. Thank you. Other - let's see - any other? All right. So we will move to the next panel. Thank you so much to the first panel for laying out a lot of really good information and getting us started. I'm going to move to the next panel and introduce them briefly. And what they're going to provide is information around, what are the impacts of abandoned and orphaned wells, and what are the regulatory tools to manage these wells? So, again, we hope that you all submit some Q and A for this panel as well as for the overall moderated discussion. So we have three panelists again. The first, Dr. Seth Shonkoff, is executive director of PSE Healthy Energy, visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, and affiliate at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. He's an environmental and public health scientist by training with more than 20 years of experience in water, air, climate and population health research at the energy interface. Today, we'll be discussing the public health and environmental impacts from abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells. Seth Pelepko is the environmental program manager in the Bureau of Oil and Gas Planning and Program Management at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. His area of expertise include stray gas migration casework, gas and oil well integrity and legacy well topics. Uduak-Joe Ntuk is the 17th California state oil and gas supervisor for California Geologic Energy Management Division, or CalGEM. He will share his expertise in directing California's statewide regulatory, technical and field operations organization designed to emphasize the safe development of oil and natural gas conservation as well as his experience serving as a representative in the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. So with that, I'll turn to Seth. Dr. Seth Shonkoff, please.
0:37:06:>>SETH SHONKOFF: Thanks so much for the introductions, and thanks so much to everyone who's listening right now. So next slide. And next slide. So I'm just going to jump right in because we only have a few minutes together before Q&A. But I'm going to start with sort of outlining some of the key points that I'm going to cover in this presentation on the human health risk factors of orphaned and improperly abandoned wells. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but these are some of the more important ones, at least where the science is to date. So I'm going to be talking about natural gas composition. And that is variable. It's not just methane and often contains health-damaging chemical constituents that if moved - if they move to places where people live, work and play can - people can be exposed to them. Wellbore integrity decreases with time. And land use decisions are important when it comes to building on or near orphaned and abandoned wells from a public health perspective. Next slide, please. So my colleagues and I conducted a large systematic literature review, which we published in the peer review literature earlier this year, looking at hazardous air pollutants throughout oil and gas development. And you could hit forward one time. You know, while not all of these activities are necessarily pertinent to the questions of orphaned and abandoned wells, it is clear from the literature to date that oil and natural gas - and really, we're talking about gas at the moment - is commingled with a variety of hazardous air pollutants. Just as a data point, by no means the only one, but the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has data from string gas and Bradenhead gas samples from a subset of the wells in their state that show that the benzene concentration is across string, and Bradenhead is about 88 parts per million benzene. And while from an engineering perspective, 88 parts per million isn't - doesn't sound that high, from a public health and exposure perspective, when benzene health benchmarks for acute and eight-hour exposures are around one to eight parts per billion, sources with concentrations of benzene such as this are certainly notable and should be taken into consideration. Next slide, please. So wellbore integrity - things fall apart over time. And orphaned and abandoned wells - this is nothing new to the majority of you who are listening - there's a variety of things that can happen to a well over time, including loss of structural integrity, of cement and wellbores, lack of zonal isolation. And when these types of things happen, gases and fluids, liquid and gases, can move from places where they're supposed to be to places where they're not supposed to be, including but not limited to groundwater resources and up to the atmosphere. And when chemical constituents in gases from target formations, as well as intermediary gas-bearing formations, move into, say, an aquifer that is currently being used for drinking water or could in the future be used for drinking water, as is the case for USDWs, this can pose a potential exposure pathway to human populations. And, of course, movements of the atmosphere can put in particular nearby communities at risk of exposure to a variety of health-damaging pollutants. Next slide, please. And so what this comes down to is that we really need to know before we build. In particular, when we're building spaces where there's inside spaces, there's a variety of public health pathways that are of importance. In the case of Los Angeles, for example, which is a very petroleum-dense basin which is also co-located with a global megacity, it's interesting to note that many of the buildings in this basin have methane and non-methane VOC mitigation systems in their basements. And a proportion of that is to protect against the buildup of methane and non-methane VOCs in buildings that are attributable to previous oil and gas development as - in addition to natural leakage and seepage. So some of the health hazards of building near or on top of orphaned and improperly abandoned wells is - are explosions. If methane concentrations reach beyond the lower flammability limit, and there's an ignition source, there could be an explosion, as can be seen in the picture to the right in Colorado. Additionally, there are asphyxiation hazards if the concentration of - oh, please go back. If there - if the concentration of methane displaces available oxygen within an indoor space, it can create an asphyxiation hazard. And finally, growing concentrations of non-methane VOCs in an indoor environment can also expose populations to elevated concentrations of these health-damaging pollutants. Next slide, please. And so I'd - you know, I'd like to just leave this talk with a few important data gaps. Again, there are many data gaps, but these are just a few, which maybe we can explore further in Q&A. But we really need more - we have some, but we need more information on specific locations, ages and chemical histories of orphaned and abandoned wells. We need more information on the composition of hydrocarbons emitted from orphaned and abandoned wells across geographic, geological and corporate space. There's been a lot of work on the methane side, and that is critical from a climate perspective. But there needs to be more work done on the more proximate health side with the non-methane fraction of gas. And finally, studies which explore the proximity of oil and gas wells, both vertical and geographic, to groundwater resources as well as proximity of oil - of orphaned and abandoned wells to human populations would be very helpful from a public health characterization perspective. So next slide, please. I'd be glad to take any questions. And thank you for your time.
0:45:22:>>ABBY DILLEY: Thank you so much, Seth. And then we'll move next to Seth Pelepko.
0:45:30:>>SETH PELEPKO: Thank you, everyone. It's really a pleasure to be here today. I really thank the folks at AAAS for assembling this panel today and all of you for gathering here to really talk about what I say is probably one of the biggest challenges that Pennsylvania faces as a regulatory program, but it crosses jurisdictions, too. This is definitely an issue that touches many of the states that are oil and gas-producing states. It impacts many different types of stakeholders. So I think it's really a great opportunity for all of us here today at this workshop to collectively start to think about the challenges that are out there, and how do we advance new ideas, new concepts for managing the concerns associated with abandoned and orphaned wells? Next slide, please. So just a couple comments about the inset images. You know, that upper-right image is the Pioneer Run Creek oil field near Titusville circa 1865. And certainly, what we're seeing there is a boom cycle. You know, we've talked a little bit about boom and bust cycles, but it's amazing how closely spaced those wells are. And you can see how very easily we could get to such a high well count in Pennsylvania with all this drilling dating back to 1859, in fact. The lower right inset image is Cornplanter State Forest in 2019, believe it or not. We're very fortunate to have a partnership project with our sister agency, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, to clean up the forest. But those opportunities and the funding status these days is probably one of the bigger challenges we have. So for those of you looking at the literature, you know that the estimates in Pennsylvania range into the hundreds of thousands of wells. And there's - it's probably safe to say there's at least a couple hundred thousand that have not been accounted for in the state. What do we know? We know right now we have 8,500 wells on our abandoned and orphaned list. We know based on 30 years of historical costs that that is going to drive Pennsylvania's unfunded plugging liability into the hundreds of millions. That's - we're pretty confident in saying that. So is that population expected to grow? I think we have to consider the timeframe we're in here and the economic challenges that the industry has faced. You know, concepts such as mass abandonment are a concern. You know, we start to think about, you know, a few operators who may be struggling financially, who may have marginal wells in the thousands. All of a sudden, we could be right back where we were in 1989, when our plugging program plugged that first well. It's not inconceivable that that could happen quickly. We have abundant concerns. We have identified abundant concerns in regulatory files relating to the sorts of issues that legacy wells cause. Most of these concerns are tied to stray gas migration - you know, escaping methane building up in an enclosed space. We also know that there have been water supply impacts tied to legacy wells. And because of this long history of drilling, we find ourselves in a situation sometimes as a program that's in charge of reclaiming wells that have no responsible party - we find ourselves in a situation where we're not even sure what well it is sometimes. Or we might not even be able to find the well. We know based on the signature of the gas that it's deeper gas that's causing an impact. A lot of times, we end up having to treat at the receptor instead of mitigating at the source. And that's just the reality of having a long history of development in the state and an orphaned well-plugging program that has to adapt to the emergencies of the day. I think some of the other folks touched on this, but these wells are dynamic. And I don't know that we have a model that tells us how dynamic they are. You know, at some point, materials will degrade. We will have mechanical failure. And today's stable well will become tomorrow's emergency procurement project. That happens. It has happened. I think there's more work that needs to be done. But the environment around the well can change, too. And I think that's another big challenge, right? You know, suburbia may crop up in an oil or gas field. We've lived this experience, too. And suddenly, a well that is relatively innocuous could become a real public safety concern in those set of circumstances. Next slide, please. So a couple more snapshots - and let's spend a little bit of time on, what do state programs do when they are challenged from a funding standpoint? You really become an emergency procurement sort of operation. What Pennsylvania has done is we've sort of adapted the funds that we set aside for taking care of the most risky wells. And, you know, the way we do that is we've upped our budget for emergency procurement, and that has allowed us some flexibility when there's a concern that develops. We had been keeping an eye on our funding. And what the upper right inset image shows - and I think it's important to spend a little bit of time on this figure - is, you know, we were tracking our monthly income, which is basically tied to surcharges from drilling permits, which are really low right now because of the commodity price being so depressed. And in 2019, our monthly expenditures, mainly due to emergency procurement, eclipsed our monthly income. And that's a situation that, of course, is not sustainable. And that's a situation that's - can be compromising because, you know, we have a mission to protect public safety, and we need the funds to be able to do that effectively. We talked a little bit on the last slide about this changing environment. And I think the state has a calling to be educators, to do outreach, to explain this issue, to articulate it well to the general public. And I think there's a lot more work to be done there. You know, we're trying to modernize the resources we have to communicate the risks tied to this issue. But there's a general lack of public awareness. If you grow up in a neighborhood or a community for multi-generations where abandoned infrastructure is part of the norm, it sort of fades into the background. You're not aware that that pipe in the ground could be a pressing concern. Case in point - in 2017, we were doing a field study. We went out to look at an old well that we thought was plugged, and we found a derrick standing in someone's backyard. I mean, this is really those types of things you will see in a state with such a long development history. Next slide. So I'll give a little bit of context for this. For those of you on the work - participate in the workshop today that know me well, you'll know I'm sort of this data person. I like a good data set, and I like to be able to use it to inform the types of decisions we're making. And so one of the things I started to think about recently because of my time in the construction materials line of work is, can we use statistical controls theory to monitor our cost? Can we take some of those learnings and transpose them over to the plugging environment? And really, what this figure is showing is a series of average costs for five consecutive contracts. And for the last 10 years - take note of those orange dots - we've been starting to run contracts that are well beyond what we think would be a normal cost. And as we add those up cumulatively, we're seeing more and more of these types of wells. Now, we're very focused on the worst of the worst because of our budget right now. But this could be forcing us or pushing us into a new cost paradigm. And I think it's something we need to be aware of as we have this global discussion about how to face these challenges. That's all I have. Thank you so much.
0:53:37:>>ABBY DILLEY: Thank you so much, Seth. And for our last panelist, I'll turn to Uduak for your presentation.
0:53:47:>>UDUAK-JOE NTUK: Hey, can you hear me?
0:53:51:>>ABBY DILLEY: Yes, we can hear you. We can't see you, though.
0:53:54:>>UDUAK-JOE NTUK: Oh, I turned my...
0:53:56:>>ABBY DILLEY: There you go. Now you're on.
0:54:00:>>UDUAK-JOE NTUK: There you go. Hey, good afternoon here from California. Thanks for having me participate. My name's Uduak-Joe Ntuk, state oil and gas supervisor. A few things I'm going to talk through - and I had some slides prepared, but it looks like it didn't make it over in time. But just to give some background on what's happening here in California, first, we have a new name. Folks may have been familiar with us as DOGGR, the division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources. Governor Newsom signed a new bill renaming us but, more importantly, giving us a new mission. So we're now the California Geologic Energy Management Division, effective January 1 of this year. And part of that new mission - our new name came with a new mission about explicitly focusing on public health, adding in the greenhouse gas mitigations and then advancing the state's clean energy and climate goals. We previously did not have that as a directive for our organization. And within California, we are now the seventh-largest oil and gas-producing state in the nation according to the EIA data. We've had production in California as far back as 1860s. There's some dispute of who had the first discovery well. But when you have more than a century of oil and gas production activity, we also have geothermal and underground storage facilities, you have wells. If you have fields in development, you have orphan, idled, deserted wells. And so here in California, we're now doing about 400,000 barrels a day. Accumulatively last year, we did 161 million barrels statewide of production. And we've had a step change in a function of how we issue permits and activity in-state. We now issue more permits to plug in abandoned wells than to drill new wells in California. And that is two years in a row here a trend that's been happening. I'll talk a little bit more about it in a minute. And then we've had to focus on changing our policy around plugging abandoned wells. And it's really a - it's working with industry. It's not the taxpayers are paying for it. It's a mix between new fees and then also requirements to reduce the backlog or long-term idle wells, which I'll talk about a little bit more. But we also have this new focus on, you know, using our regulatory powers to be more impactful with what we already have in our toolkit. So that's more enforcement orders. We have the ability to do plug and abandonment orders. We've also got new data and new tools. We have the new statewide or relatively new statewide system called WellSTAR, which is our data repository that is - enables us to do more than we could in the past and even from one year to the next. As in this year's statewide idle well report, we actually have more idle wells. And part of that is because we have better resolution and a better way to look at it. So just talking about the trend of, you know, permitting and activity, there is a misnomer out there that well permits are the same thing as, like, a building permit. You know, if you go and do an entitlement process, and you get approval to build an apartment building, you get a permit for that, you're likely going to, you know, 9 out of 10 times build that apartment building. With the issuance of permits in California, that doesn't necessarily mean the actual activity has occurred. And so we - and we have multiple permit types, but they've been very specific in statute and in our WellSTAR system of what we have. We have abandoned, re-abandoned, new drill, deepening sidetrack. You know, those are our general permit types. And what we saw in 2018 was the beginning of this trend that we're on, that there was an increase in plug and abandonment permits. And there was a decrease in drilling permits. That's happened now for going on three years in a row. And talking about permit issuance, if you have a drilling permit, it's only good for a year. If you have a well stimulation permit, it's only good for a year. Just because you get the permit doesn't mean the physical work has happened, especially with the pandemic here. We've actually seen a 90% drop-off from the completed work, particularly drilling, in California. So far, in the first half of the year, there's only been approximately 30 wells drilled statewide versus the first half of 2019 was north of 300 - so huge drop-off from the pandemic. But our permit issuance has been pretty flat. And so there's a gap there between permits issued versus actual work. But what we have seen is still permits and the work for plugging and abandoning wells. So in 2016, we had a new state bill called AB-2729, which was from assemblyman Tony Thurmond, who's now our state superintendent of education. And that created our current idle well management plan and our current idle well kind of regulatory regime. There's a couple branches or pathways that folks can do to comply. You can either be in an idle well management plan, or you can pay fees. So if you don't have an idle well management plan - maybe you're a small operator, you only have three idle wells - you have to pay some scaling of funding depending on how old it is. So in California, once there's no production for 24 months, then that becomes an idle well - not just after a year or 18 months - 24 months. And then at the 36-month period, you have to either start paying fees, reactivate the well or make a decision. And so if you pay fees, those fees goes into a fund that allows the state to contract. And we go out and plug orphaned and abandoned wells that don't have an operator. And then folks who are in an idle well management plan, they don't have to pay fees, but there's a five-year schedule of reducing their idle well, so either restarting it or abandoning it. Year one was 5%, year two's 15%, scaling all the way up to 100%. That - we're only between year two and three right now, but that has also driven the behavior that current operators are reducing their inventory of long-term idle wells, or they're fixing wells and turning them back on if they're still productive. And this has been really a step change in the behavior in the state that we anticipate next year, even more plugging in abandoned wells. We do have an annual report on idle wells that will be on our website shortly that talks about the difference between idle wells and orphan wells. In California, we have a very rigorous process to determine a well is orphan. That means mineral rights, property rights, going through a number of legal processes. So we only have about 24 orphan wells, even though we think we have - we've identified up to 5,500 deserted wells that are not - have no owner, but we've not determined if it's orphan yet. I know I'm running out of time. I'm looking forward to questions and having a robust dialogue of potential policies and solutions and talk more about what we're doing here in California. So Abby, I'll pass the baton back.
1:01:52:>>ABBY DILLEY: Uduak, thank you so much. I think we'll go - we have a couple of questions in the Q&A. I'd encourage you to submit, those of you who are listening and participating, for more questions. But also we'll go right into the moderated discussion for broader sets of questions. So if everybody wants to turn - if the panelists would like to join via their cameras, that would be great. The first question I'll just - that came up during a second panel discussion, but I think it's relevant for the whole panel, is, what do we know about differences and similarities in emissions from wells across different fields, players and regions? I think there was a question about, we're learning a little bit about Pennsylvania and California, thanks to Seth and Uduak, but just questions about, what do we know about whether regions have a wide variety and whether the amount of emissions or what they're emitting varies in different regions but also across what was asked about fields or players - so different industries or practices that cause more or less emissions. So, Mary or Luke or Seth, if any of you have any comments on that or anyone else to that question.
1:03:11:>>MARY KANG: I can first try to answer this one and welcome other people to pitch in. There - you know, first, before I talk about any trends that the data currently shows, I will be talking about methane emissions. But, you know, as Seth talked about, there are other environmental metrics that we should be considering as well. So just with respect to methane emissions, I have found there - that there appears to be some regional variation. Having said that, there's a couple things I want to point out. One is that there are very few measurements available. So there's - you know, published measurements in the United States is in the order of hundreds - so maybe 600 or so, including a few that are coming out who are - that are in review right now. If you compare that to, let's say, order of millions of abandoned wells - so I'm not just talking about orphan wells. I'm talking about the broader set. But, you know, it's really - just talking about these wells, you - that's just, like, a tiny fraction of the number of wells that exist. So the question of representativeness of the data to answer any questions like this exists. So there are regional trends, but a large data gap. And even if - you know, even if we have more measurements, there's always this issue of poor records. That's another issue that we have. But I want to say, OK, there's the regional aspect, but even within a specific region - and I just showed some results for Pennsylvania, but - and, you know, there are wells elsewhere as well - there are so many factors that could impact leakage or, you know, create environmental impacts that go beyond regional, including operator, as the questioner - person who was asking the questions asked. But there's so much more, like, depth, what kind of production, how much did it produce? Like, there - all kinds of things could go wrong, and I think there are factors that might be impacting leakage rates. I think, you know, there's at least 30 or so. And so I'll stop there and let others pitch in.
1:05:29:>>ABBY DILLEY: Anyone else want to comment on that? You - as you mentioned, and I think came through in several of the presentation, that there's a lot of - there are a lot of variables, and there are - also it's in a dynamic environment, so that's also changing quite a bit. But any other additional comments?
1:05:47:>>SETH PELEPKO: This is Seth Pelepko, and what I would just say from a state regulatory perspective is the development of new technology could really be helpful here, and inexpensive technology. You know, our inspectors are out at so many well sites all the time. And to have something where we could capture reproducible measurements, we might be able to contribute to the representativeness of the data set just with our day-to-day activities. So that's something I'm very interested in seeing advance. Thank you.
1:06:21:>>ABBY DILLEY: Yeah. Seth, that's interesting you raised that because there was a question that came up in the chat box about - or Q&A - about, any thoughts on how to spur innovation of technologies in this area? And is that already happening, or does that need more focus? I'll take the nod as a yes (laughter). It needs more focus.
1:06:46:>>SETH PELEPKO: I think it needs more focus. Yeah. I mean, we started out with something like oil field technology - just measurements that a company might use. But you have to be able to plumb into the well - compared to something like what Dr. Kang is doing, where you're completely enclosing a well. And so we've tried to get more precise, lower threshold measurements. But we're not experts in this area. That's where we're hoping to be a participant, but maybe not the developer of such technology.
1:07:13:>>DANIEL RAIMI: If I could just chime in on that, you know, one of the potentially promising areas that is emerging but that I think still needs quite a bit of refinement is aerial reconnaissance to try to identify wells over large swaths of land. So there are aeromagnetic as well as lidar-based technologies that companies have developed that can be fixed to drones or helicopters or perhaps other aircraft. The measurements that these technologies can make are pretty precise, although they don't always necessarily get you exactly right on the spot of where the abandoned well is. But they can usually get you pretty close. One of the challenges here is mapping such a - such large geographical regions, right? I mean, wells - abandoned wells could be spread out over millions and millions and millions of acres. And so doing this cost-effectively will probably require, you know, additional refinements in these technologies so that they can survey large areas of land at lower cost.
1:08:18:>>SETH SHONKOFF: I would also chime in that, you know, one of - from a health perspective and, you know, sort of what's mixed in with the natural gas, like, what is - what actually is the stuff that's coming out, you know, for example, into the atmosphere, those are wide-open questions which could be addressed with very expensive, fine-scale studies, looking only at orphan abandoned wells. Or they could be very heavily informed by, you know, having testing and disclosure requirements, you know, for example, of, what is the composition of gas coming up the production casing in - across geographic areas? And if we know the API of the well, we could say things about, you know, what formation it's coming from, et cetera, which would really help to inform models of what might be coming out of orphan and abandoned wells and how to mitigate those concerns. So just a research idea to try to get around very expensive approaches to this.
1:09:33:>>ABBY DILLEY: Well, it sounds like both a research idea as well as a way to prioritize which wells are most problematic and address them. A question - a series of questions came in that perhaps Uduak, Seth, Daniel and others would address, which is, which policy changes are most important from your perspective, to protect state's fiscal health? And furthermore, they've said, we've heard about increasing bonding amounts, accelerated schedules for closing (inaudible) wells so that they don't become orphans. And just - sorry, I'm trying to read the question. So can you speak to that in terms of which policy is most important from your perspectives?
1:10:21:>>UDUAK-JOE NTUK: Uduak here. I'll take a crack at it. Can you hear me OK? We did have a California Council of Science and Technology report released earlier this year to much fanfare about potential liability. And at the upper threshold of if everybody stopped tomorrow was in the kind of $6 to $9 billion range. That's not real. That's not a real scenario. It was more closer to a potential liability in the half a million - I'm sorry, half a billion, $500 million range, which is still a lot. But California is a very large state. That all is not before the state today. There is not half a billion dollars in wells that need to be abandoned by the state. One of the few of the things we've been doing is more stronger enforcement of our current regulations, making sure that folks are who are active operators are responsible and take care of it, making sure we - there was a misnomer earlier or misrepresentation, as well. Our blanket bonding is still $3 million. We did have a new law, AB-1057, that allows us to increase bonding to $30 million per operator. We just got those authorities this year. We just got funding on July 1. And we're working on extending that program up. But that doesn't give us a magic wand to say everybody has $30 million in bonding. But that is a policy that that's going to help us, and that also gives us an alternative. So one of the things - and the State Lands Commission has a $300 million abandonment fund for the off-shore operations in Long Beach. There's four manmade islands out there. That's another way. There's not just bonding. They actually have cash in the bank to allow you to do things. So there's other avenues under AB-1057 - sinking funds, liens on properties. There's quite a few tools you already have to help mitigate, but there's been some hyperbole on what is the real liability. And we're spending more money now than we ever have on state contract for abandoning, and we're going to be spending more money next year. And I hopefully have time to talk about a potential federal orphan well bill that's been bouncing around there and we've been working with IOGCC on over the last kind of 6 to 8 months.
1:12:45:>>LUKE PLANTS: One thing, if I might jump in here - not a regulator, obviously, but one thing that I haven't noticed anyone talking about is well transfers. So when a producer actually uses up everything that it can economically produce from a well, they will often find more midsized companies to transfer those wells too, often at a very reduced price because they are seeing it simply as an offloading of their liabilities. And that process continues all the way down to - like in Pennsylvania here, we see individual landowners using a well for their house gas, where they have now technically become the owner and operator of this well and certainly would not be able to afford a $30 million bond put up for it if that's going to be the mechanism. But there are some operators who currently have on the magnitude of 60,000 wells, which $30 million would not even begin to touch. And just - also, just to make it very clear, that just because a well is a shale gas well, it does not necessarily make it more expensive and unconventional well to plug than a conventional well that may be several thousand feet shallower. So having an inventory of tens of thousands of wells is extremely daunting. And I think the well transfer process itself should have more rigor put into it.
1:14:12:>>SETH PELEPKO: I'll add a couple of quick things just because the question was directed. And I agree certainly with what Luke Plants has expressed about, you know, the cost, you know, looking at shale wells versus older wells that have just been neglected or not as well constructed to begin with. I mean, that's something we have to think about. You know, when I think about this, though, and going back to when we established a funding mechanism for these wells that didn't have a responsible party, everyone's best intentions were in mind, I believe, if you look at that legislation, and it just - it hasn't worked out. I mean, we have a 30-year, 35-year study now that bears this out, that our program has only been effective when we have supplemental funding outside of those fees that are on permits. There's surcharges. So it's time to revisit it. I mean, we have to think about whether there should be inflation corrections, you know? We have to look at baseline funding and decide, are there other models? What's happening in the Appalachian Basin? Our colleagues down in West Virginia - they know it's a tough time to ask for more money. Maybe money can be redistributed. Maybe there's existing money that's coming in through taxes or we have an impact fee program. I mean, we need to think about existing pools of money and how it might be reapportioned to address critical needs. But I do also want to say end-of-life well management is really important. There's a chance there. There's an opportunity to really get the well, you know, properly decommissioned before it might be transferred to a lesser-capitalized operator. Those are things, those are intervention moments, when there might still be a chance to get the responsible party to address the well. And so that's another opportunity that Pennsylvania continues to look at. Thank you.
1:16:09:>>ABBY DILLEY: Thank you so much. We're zeroing in on our time. This is the rapidfire portion of our panel piece, so I want each of you to just flag one or highlight your biggest concern, missing piece of information or challenge that is preventing progress or could accelerate progress on understanding and addressing these important issues around abandoned and orphaned well. So, Uduak, I'm going to go to you first. I'm going to go backwards in the panel order and start with you, if you would.
1:16:38:>>UDUAK-JOE NTUK: Our biggest challenge is funding. Where's the money coming from?
1:16:42:>>ABBY DILLEY: Show me the money. That's short and sweet, OK (laughter).
1:16:50:>>SETH SHONKOFF: (Laughter).
1:16:50:>>ABBY DILLEY: Seth?
1:16:50:>>SETH PELEPKO: OK, so I guess that's Seth Pelepko.
1:16:53:>>ABBY DILLEY: Yes, oh, I'm sorry. Seth Pelepko. Yep.
1:16:55:>>SETH PELEPKO: Yes, thank you. I never thought I'd be on a panel with another Seth, but here I am. So funding for certain. But I think there needs to be an acknowledgement across stakeholders that this is a problem. I mean, no one has a monopoly on all the solutions, obviously. But acknowledgement that we have an issue that needs to be dealt with is when the creative thinking will start. So I think that's what I'm an advocate for. Thank you.
1:17:18:>>ABBY DILLEY: Great. Thanks so much. Seth Shonkoff?
1:17:22:>>SETH SHONKOFF: Yes, thrilled to be on the panel with another Seth. So, you know, I think if I was to leave with I agree with everything that's been said so far by Uduak and the others. So if I was to leave with one final thought, I think that prioritization is key, and I think from - of course, financially it's key, but also in terms of climate and health concerns it's key. So we should probably be thinking about identifying these wells and their emissions first near where there's existing populations and then go from there.
1:18:09:>>ABBY DILLEY: Thanks so much. Daniel?
1:18:12:>>DANIEL RAIMI: Thank you. I guess I would be very similar to Seth's point - Seth Shonkoff's point. I would take his point and maybe even step it back one level, which is to say that I think we need better information about the extent of the risks from these different wells, not just methane, which is extremely important, but also, you know, we have lots of anecdotes about groundwater contamination. We have anecdotes about other air emissions, but we don't have any systematic data. And I think doing more work to better characterize the larger population of orphaned and abandoned wells will allow us to do the types of prioritization or improve the types of prioritization that Seth has, I think, correctly identified.
1:18:54:>>ABBY DILLEY: I think you just made a good friend in Mary. Luke, and then Mary (laughter).
1:18:58:>>LUKE PLANTS: Yeah. So I'm also on the funding bandwagon. I find myself in a very low-margin environment where I am. It's a highly seasonal business, and I'm competing against a lot of very small regional players. It's tough to keep a full working staff with the experience to do this work, particularly on the older orphaned wells. There's a certain amount of built-in institutional knowledge that you need to keep people employed and keep them working. And it's very, very difficult to do that on a very small and limited budget. So funding is the obvious answer for me.
1:19:34:>>ABBY DILLEY: Thank you, Luke. And, Mary, we'll wrap up with you.
1:19:37:>>MARY KANG: OK. Well, you guys said all - you guys took all the answers that I wanted to say. So first, I wanted to say I agree, like, funding, better characterization. It's all critical. If I were to add anything, at least from my perspective as a researcher, access has been an issue in some states more than others. And that's not just physical access that Luke talked about. That is definitely a barrier, but also legal access. And actually, Pennsylvania has been pretty good for that, at least in my opinion. But it has varied quite a bit regionally. So, you know, I would say better cooperation or some kind of, like - there's some way so that we can really collaborate and access sites so that we can really tackle the representativeness, like, the issue with the representativeness of the data. Because if you can only measure the wells that you can access, there might be some bias in that data. So more collaboration with everybody.
1:20:44:>>ABBY DILLEY: Great. I just want to thank all our panelists today and for all the participants for continuing to listen and gather up the information. This concludes this portion of the program, and I want to just thank everybody very much.
1:21:02:>>SETH PELEPKO: Thank you so much.
1:21:04:>>ABBY DILLEY: OK, so...
1:21:05:>>SETH SHONKOFF: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
1:21:07:>>MARY KANG: Yeah, thank you so much.
1:21:07:>>ABBY DILLEY: ...Close off before we did the next. So we will - we ran about five minutes over, so we will give you about 10 minutes for break, and then we'll come back and get into our smaller breakout sessions for more detailed conversation. So thank you again, everybody. You all did a fantastic job - a lot of information. So take a break, and we'll see you shortly.