Hundreds of old oil and gas wells in Johnson and Miami counties need capping

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Oil and gas wells that are in some cases over a century old, abandoned and emitting methane, are targeted for being plugged up as part of a comprehensive federal investment in infrastructure that may eventually include 378 wells in Johnson and Miami counties.

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids toured some of those wells this week in Johnson County, as part of an effort to call attention to President Joe Biden’s economic priorities.

Haaland, Davids and Susan Duffy, chair of the Kansas Corporation Commission, stopped at the Virginia Sue Field of Dreams near 183rd Street and Pflumm Road in Bucyrus to visit three of those sites on Monday.

Kansas has already received $25 million to plug wells and is eligible to receive another $25 million in federal grants in another round of funding, Haaland said.

“Millions of Americans across the country live within just one mile of an orphaned oil or gas well,” Haaland said. “They emit methane, which is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere. They also litter the landscape with rusted and dangerous equipment posing safety hazards and threats to wildlife.”

Kansas has so far found 6,000 old wells

Kansas has so far spent almost $13 million plugging more than 1,200 wells, said Duffy.

The money will likely not be enough to take care of every last one of the estimated 6,000 abandoned wells officials have been able to find.

Even so, Duffy called the federal program “a huge shot in the arm” on a project that would have taken the state decades to do on its own.

The 6,000 wells are just the ones state officials know about now.

Duffy said there may be as many as 4,000 more that have not been located yet.

An old gas well near Bucyrus, in southern Johnson County, that has been plugged. Photo credit Roxie Hammill.

Most local wells are centered in Miami County

Johnson County has 34 abandoned wells and Miami County 344, she said.

Some wells in the southeast part of the state date back to the early 1900s, Duffy  said. Their depths range from 700 to 1,400 feet.

The wells are not necessarily easy to find. Duffy said state officials have relied on historical records, and some wells have even been left behind in backyards.

Since 1996, Kansas has had an abandoned well plugging and remediation program requiring operators to contribute toward an assurance fund through licensing fees.

The fund is used to plug the well if the operator can prove it does not have funds, or if the well is abandoned.

Capping wells could have environmental, economic impacts

Davids said the inactive wells pose air and water pollution problems for recreational areas like the baseball field near the capped well they visited.

“These are areas where the community and kids get together to play, exercise and just enjoy the outdoors,” she said. “People should be able to do that without fearing for their health and well being.”

Haaland and Davids also stressed the program will create jobs for Kansans and that areas that have been historically marginalized will have priority for getting the wells capped.

Abandoned wells can be reported to the Kansas Corporation Commission website.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com.

About the author

Roxie Hammill
Roxie Hammill

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com.