Wyoming finalizes plans to plug orphan gas wells

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CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — State officials say they've finalized plans to begin plugging some of the Powder River Basin's hundreds of abandoned coal-bed methane wells in the weeks ahead, a big job that could get a lot bigger depending on the outcome of a company's bankruptcy.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has hired independent contractor Robert King, a former interim state oil and gas supervisor, to lead the effort.

"I think if the state keeps their foot on the accelerator, we can do 300 in a year," King told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/PMsYm9 ).

Some companies have been abandoning their coal-bed methane wells as gas production drops off and the wells cease to be profitable. At least 1,200 such wells now need to be plugged by the state.

State officials recently finalized plans to plug 67 wells south of Gillette and plan to begin work on those as the weather permits. The commission is accepting bids to plug another 141 wells after that.

Meanwhile, close to 900 wells owned by Luca Technologies, Inc., could join the list.

Luca sought to produce profitable amounts of gas from depleted coal-bed methane wells by feeding nutrients to the naturally occurring, methane-producing bacteria that live in the coal seams where the gas originates. The company filed for bankruptcy protection last year.

Luca officials have proposed selling a subsidiary, Patriot Energy Resources, to High Plains Gas, a Sheridan company. The sale would prevent the wells from being officially abandoned.

State officials have expressed doubt about High Plains' ability to fully bond the wells, however.

Oil and gas producers pay bonds on their wells to cover plugging and other reclamation costs in case the companies someday aren't able to do the work themselves. Plugging and reclamation falls to the state when bankrupt producers abandon their wells.

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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