Orphan Well Program

The Division oversees the state orphan well program- wells that are unplugged or abandoned.
The program has plugged over 100 wells and is funded by producers of oil and gas through a .002 levy on the value of production. 

Staff from the program recently went to Mexican Hat to inventory the orphan wells in the area.

Mexican Hat is the oldest oil field in the state. After oil was found in San Juan County in 1908, approximately seven oil companies had started work on no less than 25 wells near Mexican Hat. Over the next few decades, many wells were drilled in the area- some produced and some were drilled as exploratory and never used.

A database is used to mark all the known wells on the map, which makes finding the wells  easier. Information such as when it was drilled, depth, gas or oil, status of well (shut-in, producing, plugged and abandoned, or temporarily abandoned) is included in the database. Photos can also be added for additional reference. Staff compares the information in the database to what is found in the field. It is not unusual for legacy wells to be found that are not accounted for in the database. Legacy wells were generally drilled prior to the establishment of the Oil and Gas Commission (now the Division) and before regulations were in place governing well drilling in Utah. 

Currently there are six wells on the orphan list to be plugged, but as a result of the field work, 11 additional wells were identified and added to the list. When staff is ready to begin plugging, they will work with State Purchasing to acquire and evaluate bids. After a contractor has been selected, staff will witness and direct operations for properly plugging and abandoning the wells.

As part of the Division’s mission to preserve the environment, it is important for staff to go in the field and verify the status of each well to prevent any incidental damage to the environment.

While many of the well locations are located in beautiful desert country like Mexican Hat, staff also encounters hazards including rattlesnakes, flash flooding and remote areas while on inspections.

Petroleum Engineer Dustin Doucet identifying an orphan well in San Juan County.