According to the Alberta Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, almost 400,000 oil and gas wells were drilled in the province during the period 1963 to 2012; for an average of about 8,000 per year.
Of those, 154,111 have been abandoned or about 38.5 percent.
The term ‘abandoned well’ means a well that is not in use because it ceased to produce or was dry to start with so it is hard to determine what percentage of Alberta’s abandoned wells were which.
A 1983 Oklahoma report states however that almost one out of every three wells started in the state the previous year was dry and abandoned, which means 28 percent of the money spent for exploration was lost. It also states for “wildcats,” those exploratory wells drilled in unproven territory without direct evidence of the underlying strata, 70.5 percent of exploratory wildcats were dry holes.
A well can cost anywhere from a half million to a few billion dollars to drill.
North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources, recently put the average well completion costs for the Bakken at $9 million to $11 million — or about $3 million higher than the other hot U.S. oil development in Texas, the Eagle Ford.
In short, dry holes are expensive. In 1982 BP spent about $1.5 billion on its Mukluk well in the Beaufort Sea that came up empty.
Drilling wells can also be dangerous as witness the Deepwater Horizon incident, the Kuwait oil fires and the blowout currently burning in the Gulf of Mexico.
Abandoned wells also cause environmental damage due to leaks and though the percentage of wells that do leak is debated, even Schlumberger, in a 2003 article states that, “Since the earliest gas wells, uncontrolled migration of hydrocarbons to the surface has challenged the oil and gas industry.”
Of Alberta’s 154,111 abandoned wells 52,831 or 34 percent remain unreclaimed, meaning the land around those wells is unusable for any other purpose.
By comparisons, Gerard Nihous of the University of Hawaii estimates the number of 100 MW OTEC power plants the oceans are capable of supporting is half a million.
Effectively these would be a half million hydrogen wells capable of providing 5 times the energy of the world’s producing oil wells or 8 times the output of its producing natural gas wells.
Not one of these wells would ever be a dry hole or would ever need to be abandoned.
In the case of a catastrophic failure they would immediately cease to produce fuel to feed a fire.
The worst that could happen would be some or all of the aquatic life that thrived in the first place in the vicinity of the plant due to the convective upwelling of nutrients induced by the movement of surface heat to the depths, would be destroyed.
Aquatic life would continue to thrive around the other operating plants and would soon return to the vicinity of the new plant that replaced the one destroyed.
The kicker though would be each operating hydrogen well would be helping to mitigate the problems of atmospheric carbon, sea level rise and storm surge rather than exacerbating those threats as do the 13,788 wells per year (the past 10 year average) being drilled in Alberta and the many thousands of others being drilled elsewhere.
Photo Credit: Abandoned Well/shutterstock