Plugging an Oil And Gas Well
By Paul R. Yagelski, Esq.
Who Is Responsible? Is The Landowner Responsible? Who Can Plug A Well?
There is an oil and gas well on your property. It has been abandoned. Are you, the landowner, responsible for plugging the oil and gas well?
Upon abandoning an oil and gas well, the owner of the well or the operator of the well is required to plug it in the manner prescribed by the regulations of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PA DEP”). 58 Pa. C.S. § 3220(a). The term “owner” does not include the owner or possessor of the surface of the real property, in which the abandoned well is located, who did not participate or incur costs in and had no right of control over the drilling or extraction operation of the abandoned well. 58 Pa. C.S. § 3220(f). Accordingly, if you own the surface of the property on which the abandoned well is located, but you did not participate in and had no right of control over the drilling or extraction operations of the abandoned well on your property, you should have no responsibility for plugging the well.
What happens if the well is abandoned and unplugged and someone is injured? Can someone other than the owner or operator plug the well?
If a well has been abandoned or has ceased to operate, and a person, such as the landowner, is injured by neglect or refusal to plug an abandoned well or a well that has ceased to operate, it is lawful for the person, after notice to the owner or lessee of the premises on which the well is located, to enter on, fill up and plug the well and thereupon recover the expense therefrom from the person or persons whose duty it was to plug and fill up the well. 58 P.S. § 3.
What about an adjoining landowner? Can an adjoining landowner plug the abandoned well?
If an owner or operator of the well neglects or refuses to plug an abandoned well, the owner of, or an operator upon, land adjoining or contiguous to the land upon which the abandoned well is located, upon which a violation may have occurred, may enter, take possession of the abandoned well and plug or cap it as provided by the statute and recover the expenses thereof in an action in tort against the owner/operator whose duty it was to comply with the provisions of the statute. 58 P.S. § 8.
The PA DEP has promulgated regulations for plugging wells. These can be found at 25 Pa. Code § 78.91 et seq. for conventional wells and 25 Pa. Code § 78a.91 et seq. for unconventional wells.
If you have questions regarding your oil and gas lease, call (412) 338-1124 or contact us online.