Executive Order D 2018-12 formed the Orphaned Well Program (OWP) under the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). OWP’s mandate is to identify, prioritize, and address orphaned oil and gas wells, locations, and production facilities across Colorado.
The order directs the OWP team to create a list of orphaned wells and sites – updated annually into low, medium, and high priority categories – and plug, remediate, and reclaim them. This includes the removal of production equipment and debris as well as environmental remediation. Furthermore, an annual progress report is to be made publicly available. OWP also investigates complaints related to orphaned wells and sites with potential impacts on public health or the environment to evaluate eligibility for the program.
Orphaned wells are defined as wells in which no owner or operator can be found, or where they are unwilling or unable to plug and abandon the well. Abandoned wells can pose safety and environmental risks, including methane leaks and soil and groundwater contamination. An orphaned site is a site where a significant negative environmental impact, including methane leaks, may be or has been caused by oil and gas operations for which no responsible party can be found, or where the responsible party is unwilling or unable to mitigate the impact.
OWP’s expenditures are fully funded by oil and gas operators through financial assurance, a production levy, and penalty revenues. The bulk of financing derives from the latter two sources. For the fiscal years 2020-2021, the OWP was allocated 3.85 million dollars per year.