Things around the Buffalo Field Office in Wyoming have really picked up since I returned from the workshop in Chicago. Upon our return, my fellow intern, Christine, and I have been going out to the field together to start our inspections. What we do is a bit different than what most CLM interns are working on. To explain briefly, she and I inspect abandoned oil and gas wells to check on their status and how the reclamation process is progressing. Reclamation is the final requirement in releasing a well from bond, and if it isn’t being completed properly the operator will be notified by the BLM and can be fined if necessary.
On our first solo mission out to the field, Christine and I chose 5 wells out of our assignments for which the office had received notice that the operator was to plug and abandon the well. No further paperwork had been sent in in the few years following the notice to plug and abandon, which we thought was odd. So we decided to investigate. Prior to heading out, we created a map of the site and roads to load into Avenza (an app I highly recommend checking out). Something I’ve learned working this summer is that navigating dirt and two-track roads in Wyoming is never as straightforward as you think. Locked gates and roads in rough condition were the major obstacles we faced that first day out. A good portion of that day was spent trying to find the right road into the site, but we succeeded after plenty of trial and error. The wells we inspected that day still had infrastructure in place and lots of cheatgrass around them. Clearly, the reclamation isn’t going well.
We went back out to that site a few days later to check on the rest of the wells in that grouping. All were in a pretty similar state to the ones we saw on the first day. As we were leaving the site, we heard a call over the CB radio that there was a fire right off the main road we took into the site. I scanned the horizon and saw smoke rising in the distance. After a moment of irrational panic that somehow we had caused the fire, we realized it was a few miles from anywhere we had been that day. There were already BLM firefighters working on it, so we continued on with the rest of our day.