The Orphan Well Program was established in 1977 to plug abandoned oil and natural gas wells. Ohio’s program is recognized as one of the most well-funded and organized in the nation.
Proper plugging of orphan wells is necessary to protect public health and safety, conserve natural resources, and allow the efficient development of Ohio’s oil and gas resources. The Division has grown the Orphan Well Program to unprecedented levels and the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, combined with Ohio's already robust state funding, will provide an unprecedented opportunity for the next decade. $634 million in potential funding is available through 2035 if federal and state funds remain at expected levels.
Learn more about the program below.
Locating Orphan Wells
The Division is increasing efforts to locate orphan wells across Ohio. Approximately 19,000 orphan wells have been identified using existing records, however more likely exist.
Ohioans can report potential orphan wells for investigation by Division staff.
The Division's Survey Section also conducts aerial magnetic surveys using Unmanned Aerial System, or drone technology to try to locate orphan wells. A magnetometer, a sensor that can locate metallic objects, is attached to a drone which is flown approximately 150 feet above the surface. The Division utilizes this technology to efficiently locate orphan wells so the Orphan Well Program can more effectively create plans to efficiently plug the wells. The Division has hired additional contractors to fly more surveys across Ohio. Landowners can submit their land for potential survey by filling out the appropriate form.
Designing Plans to Plug Orphan Wells
Once an orphan well is identified, a plan to plug the well must be developed. Examples of these plans can be found on the contractor opportunities page. Traditionally, Division staff research and design plugging plans. Consultants have been hired through the state contracting process to design additional plugging plans.
Traditional Plugging Program
In the Division's Traditional Orphan Well Program, wells are grouped by priority and geographic location for state bid contract. Wells plugged under this program are selected on a priority basis until all the funds for the year are spent. Contractors who have been pre-qualified by the State are eligible to bid on projects that have been researched, grouped, and designed by the Division's Orphan Well team.
Construction Manager Plugging Program
The Division is reviewing submittals from companies interested in serving as construction managers. These companies will manage plugging projects, including subcontractors, schedules, compliance and tracking. Opportunities for businesses of all types and size will be available once the construction managers have been selected.
Landowner Pass-Through Program
The Landowner Pass-Through Payment Plugging Agreement allows pre-qualified landowners to act as the general contractor to plug and restore the well through a well-plugging contractor. If the contracting and plugging process meet the requirements of law, then the well-plugging contractors is reimbursed for costs up to the maximum contract amount. Wells plugged under this program are selected on a quarterly priority basis.
The following forms are necessary for those interested in the program:
In lieu of the Division hiring a contractor to plug the orphan well, a landowner may take an active role in the plugging project by selecting a contractor regularly engaged in the plugging of oil and gas wells and applying to the Division for the Division to reimburse the contractor through the Landowner Pass-through Payment Program.
Landowners interested in the Landowner Pass-through Program should contact the Orphan Well Program using the information on this page.
Please note that the Division evaluates the risk associated with each well in the Orphan Well Program through a four-tier classification system. Wells scored as Class I (Emergency) and Class II (Distressed-High Priority) will take priority in the Division’s Traditional Plugging Program. Plugging of Class I (Emergency) and Class II (Distressed-High Priority) wells will be difficult and will require extensive planning and design. The Division greatly discourages landowners from applying to plug these wells through the Landowner Pass-through Program.
The Landowner Pass-through Program generally includes the following steps:
- Commitment Form. If the landowner would like to pursue the Landowner Pass-through Program, the landowner must complete a Commitment Form and return it to the Division. The Commitment Form is required for the Division to initiate and complete a public notice process and search of county records for persons who must be notified that the well is to be plugged. These notice processes are done with Division funds and at no expense to the landowner.
- Public Notice and Records Search. Once the Division receives the Commitment Form from the landowner, the Division will initiate the public notice and records search processes. While the Division cannot guarantee a timeframe, this process generally takes 90 days.
- Notice to the Landowner that Well is Eligible. Once the Division has completed the public notice and records search, and unless a responsible owner comes forward to plug the well, the landowner will receive notice that the well is eligible for the Landowner Pass-through Program.
- Application Process. If eligible for the Landowner Pass-through Program, the landowner must then submit a completed application. Applications will be accepted for the first 10 business days of each quarter of the Division’s fiscal year, beginning on July 1, October 1, January 1, and April 1. Applications received prior to the first day of each quarter and after the tenth business day of each quarter will be denied.
- Review Process. Within 30 days of receiving the application, the Division will either approve or deny the application. To approve an application, the proposed contract for well plugging and restoration must (1) comply with all applicable laws and rules, (2) be reasonable as to cost, and (3) be a bona fide, arm’s length contract.
- Approval. Upon receipt of Division approval, the landowner and the plugging contractor must sign the proposed contract approved by the Division with no changes and send a copy of the contract to the Division. Once a proposed contract is signed, the Division will issue a permit to the landowner to plug the well. No work may begin until the Division issues the permit to plug the well to the landowner and a purchase order has been received by the contractor.
- Payment. When work is complete per the approved application, the contractor may invoice the Division for payment.
Various forms for this process are available on this page under the downloads section.
Emergency Services Program
The Emergency Services Program is used when a sudden problem threatens physical harm to the public. For example, if an abandoned well near a house or school suddenly begins to release natural gas in explosive amounts, the problem could be addressed quickly through this program. Only wells that are an immediate hazard qualify for plugging through this program.