Chasing Trails: Paper and Dirt

After a great week in Chicago at the CLM workshop, I have come back to the Buffalo field office to find a pile of work that has accumulated in my absence. Along with the field work entailed in abandoned/reclaimed well inspections, comes the necessary paperwork, so I’m not particularly surprised. Luckily, even the paperwork can be pretty interesting sometimes. With multiple operator changes, operators going bankrupt, and abandoned sites over 10 years old, it can be pretty big puzzle to piece together and each group of wells has its own challenges.

View riding home from the Buffalo Field Office.

There’s also often the added factor of split estate, where surface and mineral ownership is divided among multiple parties. Due to the Homestead Acts, particularly the Stock-Raising Homestead Act (1916), many wells have private citizens as surface landowners, with the federal government owning a portion or all of the mineral rights below. This is obviously important in the permitting process, but it is also key for any reclamation on those sites.

Heading down from the two-track to try and find the original well site.

While the BLM has conditions and requirements for a well to be released from bond, when it’s on private surface we defer to the wishes of the landowner for how they want the site to be reclaimed; this may also mean the site does not go completely back to its original, pre-development state, as it does on Public lands.

Ultimately what this means is a lot of research before going to a site – what’s the well’s status? Has the necessary paperwork been filed? What operator is responsible for the reclamation? Is there a landowner – if so is it the same landowner? And plenty more that are too long to list. All of this creates a framework for what we expect to see when we get there.

View from the old well site once we found it.

Often a site visit can bring up further questions, but it’s always great to go to the field and see a site that has successful revegetation, wildlife habitat/activity, and has finished the reclamation process. When you go out to the field and have trouble finding the original well site because of how well it has rejoined the surrounding landscape, it’s a good day.

After catching up on all the office work, the rest of our week was spent in the field – visiting reclamation sites, and joining some of the Environmental Protection Specialists (EPS) and Natural Resource Specialists (NRS) on their inspections and monitoring. They each have numerous projects going on so it’s always a great opportunity to learn more, plus they’re all a lot of fun to work with. I’m looking forward to some of the new projects we’ll be jumping on these next few weeks since they all have a different focus/involve a different work-group then we’ve experienced so far. It should keep things interesting!

– Christine

Buffalo, WY Field Office

Spill site an EPS in our office is monitoring. It has gone through bioremediation, and is starting to recover, but there’s a long way to go.

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