State tries to cap ‘orphan’ wells near De Beque

State oil and gas officials have been working to plug four old, leaky wells in the De Beque area, including one dating to 1911.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission spent some $200,000 to date on the project, partly to build an access road. Last week, the commission approved spending up to $180,000 to finish the work.

The four are what the commission considers “orphan” wells, ones for which the state can’t find an owner or responsible party. All were discovered to be leaking gas to the surface, and two were leaking water as well.

Three are on the west side of De Beque, and one is to the southeast, just across the Colorado River.

The oil and gas commission requires energy companies to post bonds to cover the cost of properly plugging and abandoning wells should the companies be unable to pay for the work. However, all four of the De Beque wells are believed to have been drilled before the commission was created.

Three were drilled in the 1950s or earlier. The fourth, the one located by the river and known as the Buckeye well, is depicted on a 1911 U.S. Geological Survey map tracked down by the state.

The commission has a $220,000 annual budget for plugging and abandoning orphan wells. The money is generated by revenue from oil and gas production, but it is only enough to pay for a handful of high-priority well projects each year.

Stuart Ellsworth, engineering manager for the commission, said the chief concern with the De Beque wells is the physical danger to people who approach the wells. One of the wells is in the area of a ball field. Contractors have successfully plugged that well and a second one.

Attempts to seal a third one with cement didn’t entirely succeed, probably because of holes in old steel casing, Ellsworth said. The state plans to try again with specialized cementing procedures.

Ellsworth said the Buckeye well may be far trickier to fix. The steel casing apparently rotted away or was removed for use in another well, at the time a common practice, Ellsworth said. The well also is in a flood plain, where crews expect to have to cope with groundwater flowing down the well amid porous gravel that is hard to seal.

Ellsworth said the commission encourages the public to report problems with old wells.

“We can’t jump on these things right away, but if anybody knows of anything, we’ll be happy to get them on our list,” he said.

The commission started the De Beque project in the fall and hopes to finish it in the spring.


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