Orphan well plugging count: 381 down, 3,508 to go; Wyoming to seek bids for next round of work

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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is about to solicit another round of bids to plug and clean up abandoned coal-bed methane wells, with an eye toward that work picking up once the weather warms up.

"We've identified what we want to do this year as far as packages geographically. We put a list of wells together, how they're going to be plugged, then we're going to put it out for bid," Wyoming Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson said Thursday.

"We're just getting ready this next week or so to get that going."

Gas developers have abandoned thousands of wells amid a bust in northeast Wyoming's coal-bed methane industry. Most companies have taken responsibility for plugging their wells but others have walked away without doing anything.

The commission over the last year or so has overseen plugging and cleanup of 381 wells at a cost of $1.7 million, according to Watson.

Another 3,508 wells still must be addressed. The commission set a goal of plugging and remediating about 300 wells a year.

Work continued through the winter: Crews plugged 14 wells in January and 25 in February. Warmer weather will help to pick up the pace — but not so much if Wyoming gets another wet spring.

Last year, the plugging effort was slowed by rainy weather, followed by tall grass that needed to be mowed lest the work trucks start wildfires.

"The spring has some of the biggest issues," Watson said.

Reclaimed bonds and a conservation tax paid by oil and gas developers help to pay for the orphan well plugging program.

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