As Natural Gas Boom Fades, Wyoming is Stuck with the Mess Left Behind

Saturday, December 28, 2013
Wyoming farmer John Fenton stands in front of a fracking tank (photo: Bob Moen, AP)

Eastern Wyoming was once a land of opportunity for drilling companies searching for natural gas using the technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. For nearly 10 years, businesses poured into this part of the state to extract an abundance of natural gas underground in order to feed a growing market for the energy supply.


But once the market became saturated last decade with natural gas supplies, many drillers were confronted with falling prices and too many wells on their hands. So they started pulling out of the state, or going out of business altogether, leaving behind thousands of holes in the ground, as well as surrounding lands in need of cleanup and reclamation.


“The downturn in natural gas prices has forced small operators out of business, and the problem has really accelerated over the last couple of years,” Shawn Reese, the governor’s policy director, told The New York Times. “Landowners would like their land to be brought back to a productive status and have orphaned wells cleaned up.”


Today, Wyoming has at least 1,200 abandoned wells that need attention. Officials say that on top of that, there are another 2,300 wells sitting idle that could become abandoned by their owners.


In addition, there are 400 wells not in operation that are controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management, which the state may have to do something about.


Just plugging the first 1,200 wells will cost about $8 million. But the state annually allocates only $1 million for such work. That’s why Republican Governor Matt Mead is proposing the state authorize another $3 million over the next four years to start cleaning up the mess left behind by bankrupt drillers.





Landowner organizations like the Powder River Basin Coalition say it’s time for the state to get tough with companies that exploited Wyoming’s resources.


“There has been a lot of hand-holding and coddling over the years when it comes to oil and gas operators and their ability to pay the bonding,” Jill Morrison, an organizer with the group, told the Times.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Wyoming May Act to Plug Abandoned Wells as Natural Gas Boom Ends (by Dan Frosch, New York Times)

Strong Rules on Fracking in Wyoming Seen as Model (by Kate Galbraith, New York Times)

EPA Halts Study Linking Fracking with Water Pollution (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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