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Abandoned Oil & Gas Wells

03.28.08 written by

Most citizens are unaware of the rich history of oil and gas exploration in Ohio. Over 260,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled since 1889 in Ohio. In 1814, saltwater well drillers struck oil in Noble County. Ohio’s first commercial oil and gas well was put into production in 1860 in Washington County. By 1884, Ohio was the world’s largest oil producer at that time. Unlike today, early oil and gas drilling was conducted with little oversight and regulation. As a result, little to no records were kept from these early wells and there were no standard procedures for drillers to follow. As these wells have been abandoned or plugged improperly, they raise potential problems for homeowners and homebuilders.

Proper plugging of a well is necessary to prevent flooding of water into oil and gas producing zones. An improperly plugged or abandoned well can also allow oil or natural gas to seep into groundwater causing contamination. Orphan and abandoned wells are also a significant problem for builders and developers who may unknowingly locate a structure on top of an abandoned well or even a properly plugged well. As a result, it is important that all interested parties utilize the services provided by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (“ODNR”) to determine the locations of existing wells as well as plugged wells on record.

Since wells constructed in the early years may not be properly recorded, it may be difficult to determine the presence of an abandoned well on your property. Some tips for determining the presence of an abandoned well are: oil seeping up to the surface; large patches of vegetation that will not grow; or the odor of crude oil or natural gas. In some cases, natural gas contamination of a water well is often signaled by pressure surges at the tap or in some cases can even cause a well cap to blow off. 

The ODNR Division of Mineral Resources Management has adopted an Idle and Orphan Well Program to assist landowners in plugging abandoned wells. Landowners who believe they may have an orphan or abandoned well on their property can contact the ODNR Division of Mineral Resources Management at (614) 265-6633 and attempt to access funds under the Orphan Well Program to properly plug the well.


NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.