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The Importance of Site Reclamation

Written By Kennedy Metcalf, Published November 28, 2023


This week I met with Eric Perner, who is not only a petroleum engineer that specializes in plugging orphan wells, he is a leader in regenerative agriculture and the owner of Double P Ranch. We talked about how the work done after plugging the well can have a lasting positive impact on the land and nearby communities.


Introduction:

Plugging orphaned wells is an important process happening on a large scale across the country today. One part of the process that is not as well known, is what is done with the area once the well has been plugged. The next step is called site reclamation and includes removing any remaining infrastructure that is present and revegetating the area to its natural condition (Cox III et al. 2023). This can be a long and costly process, but the benefits of rehabilitating the land are vast. Not only is it important to continue monitoring the well site for any leaking methane, but analyzing how well revegetation is occurring can also display the success of the project.



This image displays a native prairie, source: The Nature Conservancy


Revegetation:

The site of the well may have many signs of environmental degradation. There may be compaction from former tanks, infrastructure, or traffic. There may be areas that have been contaminated with material from the well. There may be other problems from the many years this area was producing. Each well site is different, but the process of site reclamation seeks to reintroduce the natural ecosystem back into the area where the well was plugged. For many states like Oklahoma, wells were drilled in prairies, which damaged the native plants and ecosystems that reside there.

Perner stressed the importance of reintroducing native plants into these areas, not only do they look beautiful, but they are incredibly efficient in increasing soil health, cycling carbon, cycling water, increasing biodiversity, and supporting the local wildlife. Native plants such as Big Bluestem have roots that extend to around 10 feet deep in the soil. This can reduce the need for added fertilizers and help the plant survive droughts (REP). A healthy native ecosystem is able to sustain itself and provide benefits for the local wildlife.

 

The Lasting Impact:

A successful site reclamation is meant to leave the area where an orphaned well previously was much better than what it was before. Native species are a productive way to ensure that we are good stewards of the land. Native plant species provide many long-term benefits for the ecosystem including storing carbon. Carbon sequestration through native species can have a huge impact on reducing carbon in the atmosphere when applied on a large scale. Additionally, land reclamation projects can act as an educational opportunity to display the benefits of native species. Perner hopes that these sites can act as a catalyst for transitioning more areas that were formerly used for oil and gas to beneficial and productive habitats.

 

Conclusion:

Site reclamation after plugging a well is not just a part of the process, but an opportunity to help support local ecosystem services. Not only does a proper site reclamation ensure the safety of the plugged well but also provides a new area of native species that contribute to various beneficial processes. Successfully revegetating a site where a well is plugged has long-term effects that work to make an area where an orphaned well may have been, into a thriving and productive ecosystem. This final step in the process of plugging wells is critical in returning former oil and gas areas into areas that will be safe and beneficial for years to come.  

 

References:

Cox III, William, James Collura, Delaney Beier. 2023. “Abandoned and Orphaned wells: How to reduce risks and minimize Environmental impacts”. Accessed August 10, 2023. https://www.bradley.com/insights/publications/2023/06/abandoned-and-orphaned-wells-how-to-reduce-risks-and-minimize-environmental


REP Provisions. N.d. “Regenerative Agriculture Grows Deep Roots”. Accessed August 14, 2023. https://repprovisions.com/blogs/rep-provisions-blog/regenerative-agriculture-grows-deep-roots?_pos=1&_psq=Deep+&_ss=e&_v=1.0


National Park Service. 2008. “Plug and reclaim”. Accessed August 10, 2023. https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=18979


The Nature Conservancy. 2023. “Thomson Memorial Prairie”. Accessed August 10, 2023. https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/thomson-memorial-prairie/

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