Dormant But Risky – New State Law Aims To Prevent Problems From Idle Oil And Gas Wells

This article was published by on the KVPR website on June 12, 2018, and was written by Kerry Klein.

California is the fourth largest oil producer in the country. As we speak, almost 81,000 wells across the state are churning out oil and gas or being used to inject wastewater back into the ground. For every three of those wells, however, there’s another one well that’s not doing any of those things—and yet they, too, can deteriorate and contaminate the air and water over time. Now, a new state law aims to prevent those hazards. When you picture an oil company CEO, Chad Hathaway may not be who comes to mind. The father of three looks young. He’s built like a football player, and has the energy of a college student. He started his company, Hathaway LLC, shortly after graduating. “I started the company from scratch,” he says. “I borrowed $5,000 from my mom, who was a schoolteacher.” Now, he operates a few hundred wells in Kern County. On a warm spring morning, he takes me to some on a sandy, scrubby plot of land in the Fruitvale oilfield just outside Bakersfield. He gestures to a handful of oil derricks dipping in the distance. “These are called pumping units, with the horse head going up and down,” he says. Then he points to a few metal valves jutting out of the ground, unmoving and inert. Those have a name too: Idle wells. They’re not active wells, currently producing oil, but they’re not permanently plugged and abandoned, either. That would involve filling them with heavy mud and cement so they could never be tapped again. Hathaway says idle wells are in limbo, assets ready to be reactivated when they can turn a profit. “It all depends on the price of oil,” he says. Indeed, after oil prices plummeted in 2014, California’s tally of idle wells jumped by 10 percent.