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Explaining the Need to Plug Orphan Wells and the Impact If We Don't

It is common for an oil well bore to pass through a freshwater aquifer as it’s being drilled. The groundwater we use every day usually lies beyond 100 feet and less than 1,000 feet below the surface. The average depth of an oil well in Louisiana is about 6,800 feet, much deeper than our typical freshwater supply. When an oil well is left unused and unplugged, the casings can deteriorate over time and create a path for contaminants to enter our freshwater table.


Contamination can also occur from the surface in the form of spills or seepage from chemical spills, pipeline leakage, sewer leaks and storage tanks to name a few. Failed casing can allow liquids introduced at the surface a path into the well bore then into the aquifer. It doesn’t  matter whether it’s methane gas, oil, or brine creeping up the well or pesticides and fertilizers going down, a failed casing can supply the route.

Oil Well Diagram

Oil Well Diagram

What are Orphan Wells?

The quick and simple definition of an orphan well is “An oil well with no responsible or viable operator.” This definition is suitable for conversations with friends at a party or office chat and it’s accurate enough.

Did You Know?

Louisiana’s first commercial oil well came in on the Jules Clements rice farm about seven miles northeast of Jennings, Louisiana on September 21, 1901. Drilled by W. Scott Heywood the well-produced signs of oil at 1,700 feet resulting in an oil flow of 7,000 barrels per day and a lake of oil that ruined several acres of rice.

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