Orphaned & Inactive Wells

The Railroad Commission is an important government agency in Texas that oversees many aspects of oil and gas development. Without strong oversight, these activities can often lead to pollution, contamination, and community health consequences. Commission Shift advocates for reforms to improve oversight for orphaned and inactive wells, flaring, oil and gas waste pits, and carbon capture use and storage.

What is an orphaned well?

An orphaned well is an unplugged oil, gas, or injection well whose owner can’t be located or is bankrupt. In addition to these unplugged wells, there are old wells that were poorly plugged and are ticking time bombs that might start leaking. With clean energy pushing out the oil and gas industry, there will be more wells to plug in the near future. Texas needs to prepare for this transition.

At Commission Shift, our top two goals for addressing orphaned wells in Texas are:

  1. advocating for the Railroad Commission to require full-cost financial assurance for oil, gas, and injection wells; and
  2. significantly reducing the number of reasons why the Railroad Commission may allow inactive well plugging extensions past 12 months of the well going inactive.
Read our Orphaned Well Reports

Do you have an orphaned well on your property? Contact the Railroad Commission today and report the well.

The opportunity is ripe to reform well plugging and cleanup in Texas because of the federal grants given to Texas to cap orphaned wells. Texas is eligible for approximately $343 million dollars under the federal program. Texas legislative committees have studied this issue and will monitor how the funds are allocated. These committees have studied abandoned oil and gas wells, cost, requirements imposed on owners and operators, and the use of the oil and gas regulation and cleanup fund. Commission Shift has provided information about the environmental impacts of unplugged wells and has organized affected groups to testify at committee hearings.

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Concerned about an orphaned well, waste pit, or other related pollution, but don’t want your identity known by the state oil and gas agency? Make an Anonymous Report.

Commission Shift will forward your complaint to the Railroad Commission, but only Commission Shift will have your identifying information. We will not share it with anyone.

Report Portal

Orphaned Wells Management

The Railroad Commission has the most important role to play in ensuring oil and gas well operators follow through with their obligations to properly clean up sites and plug inactive wells. Once a well stops producing oil or gas, operators are required to plug them within 12 months. Many operators request plugging extensions, however, and the Railroad Commission regularly grants these requests. As the wellbore deteriorates, it can leach oil, gas, and residual drilling fluids into groundwater supplies. Unplugged and abandoned wells also can release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, and open pits for collecting wastewater or other byproducts of the drilling process can leak and pose threats to groundwater as well.

When some of these operators go bankrupt, they end up leaving behind “orphaned” wells that become the state’s responsibility to plug. The Railroad Commission spends tens of millions of dollars each year plugging orphaned wells and cleaning up sites. One source of funding for this program is bonds that operators pay to assure the state that financial resources will be available to plug the wells, but the bonds cover only a fraction of the cost of plugging and cleanup. In 2017, the Sunset Commission found that insufficient and inequitable statutory bonding requirements contribute to the large backlog of abandoned wells. However, the Sunset Commission’s recommendation to amend blanket bonding requirements was not adopted.

The Railroad Commission has had opportunities to confront the transition occurring in the energy business and better prepare for the declining revenue and rising environmental risks it poses. So far, however, it has failed to do so. Read our full Orphaned Wells report.

Read Our Orphaned Well Reports

Unplugged Wells Maps

Orphaned Wells Map

Number of orphaned wells by Texas County. Source: Railroad Commission of Texas. Orphan Wells with Delinquent P-5 Greater Than 12 Months.

Orphaned wells have no active operator on file with the Railroad Commission of Texas. The wells on this list have been inactive at least 12 months, and the operator’s organization report (P-5) has also been delinquent for at least 12 months.

Note: The count of wells depicted by each color symbol are different in the orphaned wells map compared to the inactive wells map. See legend for details.

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Inactive Wells Map

Number of inactive unplugged wells by Texas County. Source: Railroad Commission of Texas. Inactive Well Aging Report.

Inactive wells are those with an active operator that have been inactive for at least 12 months. These wells do not meet the definition of “orphaned wells.” Operators are still responsible for plugging these wells.

Note: The count of wells depicted by each color symbol are different in the orphaned wells map compared to the inactive wells map. See legend for details.

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