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The 10th issue of the Shale Gas Investment Guide brings you in-depth analysis and reporting on the European, North African and global shale gas markets, together with key market data and indicators.
Shale Gas Investment Guide | by Parker Snyder

What Happens After a Well Site is Abandoned?

During the investment process, both operators and government officials need environmental guidelines to interpret laws and regulations.

Recultivation, for instance, is required of all operators who leave well sites after gas is produced during production or if a well is deemed to be non-commercial during exploration. What follows is an overview of recultivation, the process whereby a well is plugged and abandoned (P&A) and the site is reclaimed to its former condition.

Why is reculvation important? In the United States, in North Dakota, in rural areas that had been widely developed, operators have had to abandon well sites as the oil price has fallen. Those operators that have gone into liquidation have not been around to re-cultivate the site, leaving the state of North Dakota in the unenviable position to locate well sites that aren’t even geo-located. Recultivation therefore only makes sense if it begins in the planning stage, before construction of the well pad even begins.

Fortunately, the situation in Europe including Poland is much different. Environmental regulations are much stricter and wells sites are much better described in documentation related to geological works plans. Wells must be pinpointed with geo-coordinates so they can be located in the future. Cleantech’s expert Tomasz Palak worked for three years recultivating well sites in Poland, including for Chevron Polska. “During the reclamation process an operator should set a goal - as precise as possible to restore physical and chemical properties of the soil,” Mr. Palak said.

Foremost, according to the visual schematic (on the right), which was produced by Cleantech in cooperation with visual architect Krzysztof Szozda, the well is plugged and abandoned. The borehole is filled with concrete, and bridge plugs are put in place, with the well head cut off and capped at a depth of approximately two meters beneath the surface of the earth. “At every stage of demolition works, an operator should pay particular attention to cleanliness and accuracy of work execution,” Mr. Palak said.

All construction elements are removed, including concrete floor plates and gravel covering the earth. The topsoil, which was earlier pushed aside, is returned to its original placement. Vegetation is re-planted and grass is re-grown. The end result is the site looks as good or better than its original condition. If necessary, the site is monitored for any long term environmental impact, such as methane migration.

Recultivation has a social element as well. Communities may have become emotionally and physically invested in the operator’s success. One independent operator in north Poland in the Baltic Basin was disappointed to have “let the community down” after having to plug and abandon a well site. A farewell to the community, such as a letter in a local newspaper or a community meeting to explain decision, is therefore a recommended best practice.

The process of obtaining a decision declaring the reclamation to be complete is quite time-consuming and depends on many factors such as inconvenient weather and deadlines by which the authorities consider cases. The operator must reckon the fact that it can take anywhere from a few to over a dozen months to be complete.


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