Louisiana Removes Defunct Oil Wells However Hazards Remain

This article was published in “The Louisiana Weekly” within the Oct. 4, 2010 edition.

oil-refining - oil-refiningThe state’s 1000’s of orphaned wells, left behind by oil and fuel producers, are eyesores that can also cause severe accidents, boating accidents and menacing spills in water. On a day spent fishing or hiking in Southeast Louisiana, you could have been dismayed at seeing these steel-and-wood structures, and thought “why isn’t one thing being finished about them?”

Officials are addressing the business’s litter, however at a measured pace because of a limited funds. Since 1993, a state tax on oil and gas producers has generated tens of millions of dollars yearly–and an annual $four million just lately–for the Oilfield Site Restoration, or OSR, program run by the Louisiana Office of Conservation. These funds are used for the pricey means of sealing wells and carting off structural material and tools.

The state inspects abandoned wells as soon as every three years, in line with Patrick Courreges, spokesman for the Louisianan Dept. of Natural Sources. A well is considered “orphaned” when the operator hasn’t responded to compliance orders or has filed for bankruptcy. The positioning’s standing is then printed in the Louisiana Register of month-to-month, authorized notices.

“The OSR program plugs and abandons orphan wells, removes orphan facilities and restores sites as shut as potential to pre-nicely circumstances,” Courreges mentioned. By addressing one or a number of websites at a time, officials have made headway in getting rid of jettisoned gear following a century of drilling.

Since 1993, about eight,200 wells across the state have been recognized as orphaned, Courreges mentioned. Up to now, the program has closed 2,453 wells, 596 production and reserve pits, and another 295 services at a price of $65 million. Moreover, about 3,000 wells had been faraway from the orphan record after private operators took websites over, or by means of actions by companies aside from the Dept. of Natural Resources, he stated. About 5,four hundred wells on the state’s orphan list, or 65%, have been cleared from the listing thus far, leaving 2,762 orphaned wells to be addressed.

Jim Rike, petroleum engineer and proprietor of Rike Providers, Inc. in Tickfaw–north of Lake Pontchartrain, mentioned “what has happened in the past is that a nicely is sold due to low productivity, it will get sold once more, and then the final owner tries to squeeze the last drop out of it. The proprietor stops utilizing the nicely and is obligated to abandon it properly, however he can’t afford to and declares bankruptcy.”

Many of those eery-trying, old amenities are in native bays, lakes and bayous. In St. Bernard Parish, Captain Johnny Nunez, owner of Fishing Magician Charters in Shell Beach on Lake Borgne, said “we still have oil and fuel platforms lying within the water in this space from Katrina. The outdated buildings are rusted and have components that break off.”

Nunez continued, saying “lots of of lively and inactive wells exist in Breton Sound, Black Bay and Bay Eloi. Many of them, even a number of the lively ones, don’t have any lights. The locals know where they are, but they’re still a hazard–notably for boats coming in from different locations.”

The shrinking coast is one cause firms abandon gear, Nunez said. Two boaters ran right into a fuel pipeline in Eloi Bay in summer season 2009, and one was severely injured. “That pipeline was once on land, however because of coastal erosion it is within the water now,” he said. “The injured boater could not gather damages for the reason that pipeline proprietor is now not in business.” Lake Borgne, now a lagoon linked to the Gulf of Mexico, was as soon as a lake that was separated by wetlands from the Gulf.

Meanwhile, in a latest accident south of new Orleans, a tug vessel pushing a barge struck an abandoned wellhead within the Barataria Waterway in July, shooting natural fuel, light crude oil and foul water into the air. The well, which was unlit, belongs to the Cedyco Corp. in Houston and is in Louisiana’s orphan program. The gush lasted nearly every week and left 1000’s of gallons of oil and miles of sheen in Barataria Bay.

A prolonged battle to close outdated wells continues in Lake Pontchartrain, based on John Lopez, coastal scientist and director of the Coastal Sustainability Program at Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. He said “roughly 4 or 5 oil and fuel wells, owned by two corporations, are producing within the lake, and about two dozen, unused constructions exist. Many of these structures must be eliminated by the top of next year, however, by owners or by the state’s orphan nicely program. “It’s hoped that the only remaining structures might be these nonetheless in service and in compliance.”

A 2008-09 survey of Lake Pontchartrain, achieved by Lopez and his colleague Andrew Baker, found that 25 defunct, oil-and-fuel constructions–of largely steel and wood timbers–remained above the lake’s floor. Some are fashionable fishing spots by day. A variety of those websites are in disrepair, with timbers that may dislodge in storms, threatening navigation, Lopez mentioned last week.

“Without maintenance, these old structures proceed to decay and become extra hazardous,” Lopez mentioned. Lots of Lake Pontchartrain’s defunct wells have no navigation lights and are threats to boaters at night time. Among these without lights, some have wellheads that might leak oil or subsurface brine in a collision, Lopez and Baker stated in their study. A number of unused, oil and gas services within the lake are close to the shore in Kenner, and others are close to the Causeway Bridge.

In 1991, a moratorium was positioned on new drilling leases in Lake Pontchartrain, the place reserves are principally natural gasoline. In 2006, the lake was removed from the federal Impaired Waters record after a multi-pronged cleanup, and most of it’s now thought of safe for swimming.

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In lakes near New Orleans, the Oilfield Site Restoration program “has plugged and abandoned six orphan wells in Lake Pontchartrain, and removed an orphan facility there in 1995, spending $864,one hundred altogether,” Courreges said. OSR additionally got rid of an orphaned facility in Lake Maurepas in 1998 at a cost of $145,000.

Throughout the state, “the OSR at present averages $162,500 per site for plug-and-abandonment prices in water areas,” Courreges mentioned. “The price for plug and abandonment and elimination varies, primarily based on wellbore mechanics; well depth, location and accessibility; water depth, time of 12 months and available contractors.”

Rike stated that abandoned, production amenities are an issue in industries across the nation. An outdated, tapped-out oil well just isn’t almost as toxic as, say, an unused creosote plant with storage tanks, he stated. Creosote, used for wooden therapy, can pollute drinking-properly water.

You had been in all probability instructed as a kid that rust causes tetanus and have been warned about stepping on nails barefoot. However scientists say tetanus is brought on by dirt and germs, not rust. Rike believes that rust from steel in old, abandoned oil and gasoline wells is just not particularly harmful. “Steel rusts slowly, and in most our bodies of water, rust doesn’t pose a menace to fish or drinking water,” he stated.

Rike stated some of the massive threats from south Louisiana’s depleted wells are that they bang up boats and snag fishing nets. Any obstacles in the water, like sunken barges in the Mississippi River, are a hazard to navigation, he stated, and added that larger vessels use sound gear or sonar to keep away from them.

Abandoned wells in water past Louisiana’s three-mile limit are in federal territory. In mid-September, the Obama Administration said oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico should plug temporarily abandoned wells permanently, and dismantle unused, production platforms. At that time, Michael Bromwich, head of the Bureau of Ocean Vitality Administration, Regulation and Enforcement, said dangers from aging, oil and fuel infrastructure rise considerably throughout storm season.

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