Well Abandonment: Reasons, Advantages and Disadvantages

Well abandonment or decommissioning of abandoned wells is the process used to permanently close wells that are not in use or are left alone due to different reasons.

What are the reasons behind well abandonment?

Water wells may be removed from service due to the following reasons.

  • Construction of a new well
  • The well fails to provide safe and healthy water
  • Water well goes dry
  • Destruction of the property where the well was used
  • Availability of municipal water system

What are the benefits of well abandonment?

The basic purpose of well abandonment is to stop the vertical movement of water in the leftover well. Proper decommissioning and closure of the well will provide the following benefits.

  • Prevent contamination of nearby groundwater sources through abandoned wells
  • Prevent physical hazards
  • Stop water contamination from waste disposal
  • Conserve and protect the aquifers in the area
  • Prevent mixing of potable and non-potable water

What is the criterion for well abandonment?

The following situations explain the criteria used for well abandonment.

  • Construction was stopped before the well could be completed
  • The well owner notifies the local board of health or well management department that the well will not be used again
  • The well is out of use for at a certain time (check state laws for the exact number of years)
  • The well water is unhealthy and can’t be made consumable through water treatment units or disinfection
  • The well is a risk for underground water sources contamination

Who is responsible for decommissioning?

As water wells are private property, decommissioning the well is the responsibility of the person responsible for the property affairs. As far as the abandonment process is concerned, you must check your state laws that either the owner can seal the wells or you need to hire licensed contractors for this purpose. Most of the States forbid individuals to carry out well modifications, alterations, and sealing.

Sealing Procedure

First of all, you must have a well completion report. If you don’t have it with you, contact your local well management department, they have records of all the wells dug in the area. This report will provide information that will help in the sealing procedure. It confirms well seal placement and does the contractor need to remove or perforate the well casing before sealing the well.

The contractor must also check the well for any debris or sediment deposits that may interfere in the sealing process. The water well must be disconnected from the plumbing system, and all the treatment units or appliances must be removed before the sealing process.

The next step is to measure the static water level in the well. It is needed to measure the volume of grout to be used during the sealing process. The volume of sealing material (grout) must be equal to or more than the volume of the casing of the borehole being sealed. This information is available in the well completion report. You can also calculate it using the cylindrical volume calculation formula, πr2h. The volume calculated will be different for each well. Once the volume has been calculated, the number of bags can be calculated by dividing the volume by the cubic feet of material produced per bag.

Sealing Materials

Your contractor will discuss the sealing materials with you before starting the process. Make sure you only use an approved material for sealing purposes. The acceptable and commonly used materials are:

  • Bentonite
  • Bentonite cement grout
  • Bentonite chips
  • Sand cement grout
  • Neat cement grout
  • Concrete

The above materials can be divided into two groups; bentonite and cement. The advantages and disadvantages of each are mentioned below.

Bentonite-based Grouts

Advantages

  • Do not shrink
  • Have a low density
  • Don’t need too much curing time
  • Permeability is suitable with high-solid grouts

Disadvantages

  • They are difficult to mix
  • Each bentonite grout has different instructions
  • They swell very fast, and hence it is difficult to pump them
  • Post-sealing equipment cleaning is very difficult
  • Can be washed out in fractured bedrocks

Cement-based Grouts

Advantages

  • They can be easily mixed and pumped.
  • Applicable to most of the geologic formation
  • Their properties can be molded by adding additives.
  • Last for decades

Disadvantages

  • They need a high curing time.
  • Prompt post-sealing equipment cleaning is needed.
  • Prone to shrinkages

Decommissioning Report

The contractor is responsible for submitting a decommissioning report within 10-30 days after completing the sealing process. (Exact time varies from one state to another). The decommissioning report contains information about the owner and property, the reason for decommissioning, details of the contractor, information about well depth, sealing materials, sealing procedure, and other relevant information mentioned on the decommissioning report specimen. Once the report is approved, it is the contractor’s responsibility to send a copy to the well owner.

FAQ

What is the cost of well abandonment?

Well abandonment ensures that no hydrocarbons leak into the surface water or into the atmosphere from unused wells. The cost of well abandonment may vary from one state to another. It also depends on the structure (depth, width) of your well. The average cost in the US is $4000-$5000.

Can I seal my water well myself?

Almost all the states require all actions on water well, either drilling, disinfection, or sealing. However, some states give some relaxation. You must check your local laws before doing anything with wells at your property.

Which sealing material is better: Bentonite-based or cement-based?

Both the materials have their advantages and disadvantages. We suggest you settle for the material approved by the local authorities and recommended by your contractor.

Final Words

All the above information will come in handy while you are hiring a contractor for sealing your well. You can learn more about working with well contractors here. Getting your abandoned well sealed properly is your responsibility. It helps in maintaining the underground water quality.

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