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KCC awarded $25m to plug abandoned oil, gas wells

Majority to be remediated located in Southeast Kansas


PITTSBURG, Kan. — The Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) has been awarded a $25 million initial federal grant to help plug more than 2,350 abandoned oil and gas wells in the state, a majority of which are located in Southeast Kansas. 

The initial grant is part of $1.15 billion earmarked under the Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to help states remediate abandoned oil and gas wells. A total of $4.7 billion has been allocated over the next eight years to plug abandoned wells in the U.S. The KCC is eligible to receive another $33.6 million in future formula grant funding. 

“These federal grants provide Kansas with a one-time opportunity to help address the issue of abandoned wells in Kansas while helping the economy by providing good paying jobs for several years,” Ryan Hoffman, director of the KCC’s Conservation Division, said in a press release. 

The KCC plans to use the initial $25 million grant to pay for eight projects involving the plugging of 2,352 abandoned wells over the next two to three years. Three of these projects, totaling 1,579 wells, are located in Southeast Kansas. The single largest project is also located in Eastern Kansas, but further north, and the other four, smaller projects are located in Central and Western Kansas. 

A well is considered “abandoned” when it has been permanently taken out of production, is not properly plugged to prevent possible air or groundwater pollution, and the rightful legal owner cannot be determined or located to take responsibility. 

491 wells located in Crawford, Bourbon, Neosho, Labette, Allen and Montgomery counties are included in the KCC’s “Project 5,” 521 wells located in Coffey, Woodson and Wilson counties are included in “Project 4,” and 567 wells located in Greenwood, Elk, Chautauqua, and Montgomery counties are included in “Project 6,” according to the KCC. “Project 3” in Jefferson, Douglas, Johnson, Franklin, Miami, Anderson and Linn counties includes 668 wells. The other four projects in Central and Western Kansas each include smaller numbers of wells in the low double digits. 

While the federal grants will help reduce the total number of abandoned wells in Kansas, they are insufficient to address the entire problem, according to the KCC. The KCC will still rely on industry-generated funds to plug the thousands of wells remaining after the federal program expires. 

More than 11,000 abandoned wells have been plugged since the establishment of the state well plugging fund in 1995. Oil and gas drilling in Kansas began in the 1860s. Record keeping by early operators was not as precise as it is today. It is not uncommon for older abandoned wells to be discovered by landowners who were unaware they existed, according to the KCC. 

“These federal grant funds will provide important assistance in plugging abandoned wells in Kansas,” said Dwight Keen, chair of the KCC. “However, to adequately protect Kansas fresh water resources, it will also be necessary to continue funding the plugging of abandoned wells with state well plugging fund resources provided by oil and gas industry fee assessments.”