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Thompson sponsors orphan well legislation

By MARC KOVAC Capital Bureau Published: June 21, 2017 12:00 AM

COLUMBUS -- The state would devote a larger portion of taxes and other funds paid by the oil and gas industry to capping long-abandoned wells across the state, under legislation being considered in the Ohio House.

Sponsoring Rep. Andy Thompson (R-Marietta) is calling HB 225 the "Get Wells Soon" bill.

And it's "just what the doctor ordered -- legislation to help property owners and the state to move more expeditiously to identify and plug idle or orphaned wells," Thompson said in recent testimony to the Ohio House's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where the bill had its first hearing.

The state, through its existing orphan well program, has identified more than 600 abandoned wells on properties in 58 counties, many drilled generations ago and left idle by previous owners before existing state regulations were in place, Thompson said.

The deteriorating casings in the wells can contaminate groundwater, and the unused wells also emit methane gas and contribute to the runoff of oil and brine into surround soils, he said.

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Capping the wells can cost anywhere thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.

HB 225 would establish a system for reporting and prioritizing abandoned wells, with requirements that those ranked as "distressed-high" be plugged within six months. Landowners who report orphan wells would not be financially responsible for plugging them, though there are provisions for the state to reimburse those property owners who do.

The bill also would increase to 45 percent from 14 percent the portion of revenues collected by the state for oil and gas wells to be used for the plugging program. Other language would allow tax deductions for property owners who receive compensation from the state for dealing with orphan wells.

The Ohio Farm Bureau and industry groups support the bill.

"Over the decades drillers have gone bankrupt, companies have merged, leases have expired, production assets have changed hands, and developers are lost to history," Jenna Beadle, director of state policy for Ohio Farm Bureau, said in testimony to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "Current ownership of some infrastructure still on the land is untraceable. Some landowners are left to address deteriorating well casings that expose adjoining soil and water resources to pollution."

She added, "This bill would strengthen the rules governing orphan wells by creating a schedule for plugging the wells based on the level of urgency associated with the well site."

Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at mkovac@recordpub.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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