The Department of Environmental Quality recently discovered a brine seep in Southfield, Mich., at the site of an old oil and gas well drilled in 1939. Although the seep is unrelated to the recent application for a permit to drill the proposed Word of Faith 16-27 exploratory oil and gas well, DEQ staff discovered it during a broad site evaluation for that permit application.
The DEQ’s Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals will investigate the seep and plan activities to safely and effectively stop the brine, which is essentially salt water, from coming to the surface. Money for this work is available under the DEQ’s Orphan Well Program, which is funded by a tax on oil and gas industry revenues. The program is dedicated to plugging abandoned or improperly plugged oil and gas wells for which the owner no longer exists or is insolvent, or where there is an imminent threat to public health and safety. Since the Orphan Well Program’s inception in 1995, the OOGM has plugged more than 340 wells and cleaned up the surrounding areas.
As part of its work to remediate this well, the OOGM contacted the City of Southfield through the Mayor’s Office, the developer, and the nearby homeowners to inform them of the site conditions and the plans to stop the seep. The OOGM will continue to keep all interested parties informed on progress.
Staff discovered the seep as part of their evaluation of the Word of Faith exploratory well permit, while reviewing the records of two other oil and gas wells previously drilled in Southfield. One of those two old wells—the Moore No. 1—was about 1½ miles from the proposed Word of Faith well. The Moore No. 1 was drilled in 1939, but did not encounter economic amounts of oil or gas, and the Michigan Supervisor of Wells ordered it plugged in 1941.
The review of the records of the Moore No. 1 well showed it would not have a bearing on the permit decision for the Word of Faith well since it was much shallower and far enough away. However, a review of aerial photographs from 2005 and 2009 indicated a bare spot of ground at the approximate location of the Moore No. 1, now home to a recently developed subdivision. Last week, an OOGM inspector found wet soil at the location, and observed salty water seeping to the surface. The Moore No. 1 well is the only apparent potential source of the brine seep.
Aerial photographs from 2002 and earlier do not reveal any signs of the brine seep. It is possible that the Moore No. 1 well was plugged in a manner that was inadequate even by 1941 standards, and that development activities in the early 2000s unknowingly disturbed a near-surface plug in the well, allowing brine to flow to the surface. Today’s standards for plugging unused wells are much more stringent and are rigidly enforced.
The OOGM typically finds a very old, unplugged well once or twice a year; very few of these wells are leaking. While the OOGM typically learns of such wells through complaints or through observations from citizens, the OOGM has not received any complaints related to the Moore No. 1 location.
For more information please contact:
Hal Fitch, 517-284-6823, email@example.com