Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Abandoned Wells - A Few of Our Experiences

Most activities by locals and state governments regarding the handling of abandoned water wells is to offer a cost-share incentive program.  Some are fairly well funded, most are not.  While this makes most people feel good, it is probably the most inefficient and wasteful way to address the problem yet devised by well-meaning activists (pun intended).

We start with the likely premise that abandoned wells are probably illegal by state and/or local law. So why should we be using taxpayers money to help correct an illegal situation?  Even if they're not illegal, which they are in Kansas, we have found the following to be true:

1)  What a land-owner deems an abandoned well and what any responsible cost-share program would deem one to be are very, very different;
2)  Most landowners aren't even aware of the fact that an abandoned well exists on their property even if they did agree on the definition;
3)  Too many landowners don't feel obliged to put any money into a useless object - regardless of the potential liability.

These findings all point to the need for a comprehensive survey by qualified persons if serious about remediating the problem.  Otherwise it's like fixing a few holes in your roof while leaving many more unaddressed.  You also need a process to keep new wells from getting abandoned.  We work with the well drillers and for every redrill, we account for the former well.  A process to follow through is important also. Can't tell you how many reminders were necessary in our program - even to those who initially agreed to plug the well.

I've not seen a single, voluntary cost-share plugging program in Kansas or surrounding states that has lasted long enough to come even remotely close to mitigating their abandoned well problem. And even if they do last, they get wells plugged at such a slow rate that it's likely abandoned wells are being added faster than they are being remediated.  If this is true, then whatever money they spent (or are spending) doing a partial job was (is) totally wasted.  Our board felt that the taxpayers were more likey to give them grief for not efficiently spending their dollars on an important water program than they would for implementing a tough, efficient, regulatory program that was going to work. 

We created a regulatory program that inventoried virtually every tract of land in the district and remediated just over 2200 abandoned wells in 3.5 years.  We did so such that our definition of abandoned well was used, the well drillers became part of the program for maintenance, and at a total administrative cost (taxpayers money) of about $32.00 per well - considerably less expensive than the cost-share efforts on-going at the same time in Kansas. No program or approach is perfect, but I'll hold our effort up against any in the country for efficiency and results. 

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