How Many Inactive Oil & Gas Wells Are There in the U.S.?

abandoned oil and gas wells

What are inactive wells? 

Inactive wells—those that have been plugged or abandoned—are an important data point for regulators and industry representatives alike, as they can help give a general picture of how much oil and gas is available in certain areas. There are about 1 million inactive wells in the country today, down from 1.35 million.  This information is used to inform future production forecasts, which are important factors when considering whether or not regulations should be changed or if companies need to obtain additional leases on public land.

Which state has the highest number of abandoned oil and gas wells?

As of 2020, Pennsylvania had an estimated 338,700 abandoned oil and gas wells, making it by far the U.S. state with the highest number of unused wells. In March 2020, there were 544 drilled but uncompleted oil and gas wells in the Appalachia oilfield - which is partly located in Pennsylvania. Among the leading ten states with the highest number of abandoned oil and gas wells, Texas, Kansas, Illinois, and Louisiana were the ones with the lowest numbers. Each one of these four states accounted for less than seven thousand abandoned oil and gas wells.

The number of inactive oil wells labeled plugged and abandoned has been declining in the last couple of years.

The number of inactive wells labeled plugged and abandoned has been declining in the last couple of years.  1.4 million inactive oil wells were identified by the EPA as having been plugged or abandoned. This compares to a total of 2 million active wells that included both producing and non-producing wells. The number of permits issued for new drilling has been decreasing while those being disposed of had remained steady since 2009 when they bottomed out at their lowest point during this time period.

Texas has more than six times the number of inactive wells as Colorado, which has the second most.

Texas has more than six times the number of inactive wells as Colorado, which has the second most. Texas also has fewer active wells than Colorado and a lower percentage of total permits issued.

Inactive wells are considered those that have not produced oil or gas in at least 12 months, according to the USGS. Of those, abandoned wells are no longer used for oil or gas production but maybe still produce water and/or brine (saltwater). Plugged and abandoned wells don't produce any fluids at all.

The number of active permits in Colorado is much higher than the state's inactive wells.

For every inactive oil well in Colorado, there are three active ones.

Inactive wells have been drilled with the intention of exploring for oil or natural gas and have not produced any crude or condensate since they were last plugged and abandoned. They can be found throughout the state, but are more concentrated in certain regions. For example, there's an average of about one inactive well per square mile in Garfield County—where drilling is common—and only 0.2 per square mile elsewhere (map).

It's important to note that it's possible for a permit to remain active even though no drilling has occurred. This means that some permits may be classified as inactive by default due to insufficient data about their status. Conversely, some permits may be labeled as active even though no work was done on them because there was never enough evidence indicating otherwise

Natural gas makes up almost 70% of Colorado's energy production, but experts don't think it will overtake crude oil anytime soon.

Colorado's primary energy source was natural gas. Approximately 70% of the state's total energy production was made up of natural gas, while crude oil made up only 16%. Experts don't expect this trend to change anytime soon.

In fact, Colorado is already seeing a shift towards natural gas projects over crude oil. Because it's cheaper to produce and uses fewer resources than oil, it may be more environmentally friendly in the long run as well—especially when you consider that fracking operations have brought their own share of problems to many areas where drilling has been rampant (though not all). These factors combine with rising prices for crude oil worldwide to make it seem unlikely that Colorado will ever see an increase in its crude production rate.

Related article:

How Many Unused Oil and Gas Drilling Permits in the U.S.?