Administrative Code

Virginia Administrative Code
9/17/2021

Article 6. Plugging and Abandonment

4VAC25-150-435. Plugging for abandonment or plug-back operations.

A. Permit requirements; variances.

1. Plugging operations shall not commence until a detailed plugging plan has been submitted to and approved by the director. A permit modification is required if the well was not previously permitted for plugging.

2. Any person may file an application with the director to replug a previously plugged well in any manner permissible under provisions of this section to facilitate the safe mining-through of the well at a later date. The application shall be treated in all respects like any other application for a permit under § 45.1-361.29 of the Code of Virginia.

3. The director may, upon application by the permittee, approve a variance to the prescribed plugging methods for the following reasons if it is determined that the alternate plan meets the requirements of the Act:

a. The coal owner or operator requests a special plugging program to facilitate mine safety, mining through the well, or to obtain approval from another governmental agency for the safe mining-through of a well. The application for a variance must include documentation of the request from the coal owner or operator.

b. The permittee has obtained written authorization from the coal owner or operator for alternate plugging of the coal-bearing section. The application for a variance must include documentation of approval by the coal owner or operator.

c. Downhole conditions such as junk in the hole, a stuck or collapsed casing, caving or other adverse conditions which would prevent proper execution of the prescribed plugging methods.

d. A permittee presents an alternate plugging plan which may differ in method from that prescribed herein, but which will achieve the desired result.

B. Plugging in open hole. When a well or section of a well without casing is to be plugged or plugged back, it shall be sealed and filled as prescribed in this section.

1. At a point approximately 20 feet above each oil, gas or water-bearing stratum in open hole, a plug shall be placed so as to completely seal the wellbore. Whenever two or more gas or oil stratum are not widely separated, they may be treated as a single stratum and plugged accordingly. Cement plugs shall be at least 100 feet in length. At least 20 feet of cement shall be placed on top of open hole bridge plugs.

2. At each coal seam, a cement plug shall be placed from not less than 50 feet below the base of the coal to not less than 50 feet above the top of the coal. Whenever two or more coal seams are not widely separated, they may be treated as a single seam and plugged accordingly. This subsection applies only to coal seams which occur at a depth compatible with mining. Coal-bearing sections at greater depths may be plugged in accordance with subdivision B 1 of this section.

3. If a source of groundwater capable of having a beneficial use is exposed in open hole below surface (water-protection) casing, a cement plug at least 100 feet in length shall be placed below the base of the lowest such groundwater zone.

4. A cement plug of a minimum length of 100 feet shall be placed across the shoe of the surface (water-protection) casing. The plug shall be placed so as to have approximately equal lengths in open hole and inside casing. If the well is without surface casing, a continuous cement plug shall be placed from at least 50 feet below the base of the lowest known aquifer or 300 feet depth, whichever is deeper, to the surface.

5. All intervals below and between plugs shall be filled with drilling mud, bentonite gel, or other appropriately weighted materials approved by the director.

C. Plugging in cased hole. When a cased hole or section of a cased hole is to be plugged or plugged back, it shall be sealed and filled as prescribed in this section.

1. All perforated intervals shall be either squeeze-cemented or otherwise isolated from the wellbore by suitable plugs placed across or immediately above the perforated interval. Cement plugs placed across perforations shall extend to at least 50 feet above the top perforations. A cement plug shall be placed to at least 50 feet above squeezed perforations. Cement plugs placed entirely above perforations shall be at least 100 feet in length. At least 20 feet of cement shall be placed on top of bridge plugs, cement retainers, or other tools left in the hole.

2. At each coal seam which is behind a properly installed and cemented coal-protection casing, a cement plug shall be placed from not less than 50 feet below the base of the coal to not less than 50 feet above the top of the coal. Whenever two or more coal seams are not widely separated, they may be treated as a single seam and plugged accordingly.

3. If casing is not to be pulled, and there is uncemented annulus behind the pipe, plugging shall be as follows:

a. Each oil, gas or water-bearing stratum present behind the pipe in an uncemented annulus must be isolated by perforating the casing at each zone and squeezing cement up into the zone, or circulating cement up the annulus such that a cement fill-up of not less than 100 feet is achieved. When squeezing or circulating the annulus, a cement plug of at least 50 feet shall be placed inside the casing above the perforations.

b. If the well penetrates a minable coal-bearing section, and no coal-protection casing was used, and if surface (water-protection) casing is either absent or not properly placed and cemented to surface, the production casing shall be converted to a coal-protection string by perforating at least 50 feet below the base of the lowest coal stratum, and circulating cement in the annulus from that point to the surface.

c. At each coal seam in a minable coal-bearing section which is protected by a properly installed and cemented coal-protection string, a cement plug shall be placed in casing from not less than 50 feet below the base of the coal to not less than 50 feet above the top of the coal. If there is uncemented annulus between the inner casing and the coal-protection string, the casing shall be perforated to allow cement to be circulated over the prescribed interval, and a plug of equal length shall be placed inside the inner casing.

d. If a fresh water aquifer is exposed to the wellbore in an uncemented annulus, it shall be isolated by perforating the casing at least 100 feet below the aquifer and squeezing cement into the annulus or circulating it up the annulus so that a fill-up of not less than 100 feet is achieved. When squeezing or circulating cement, a cement plug of at least 100 feet shall be placed inside the casing above the perforation.

e. At a point no less than 50 feet below the shoe of surface (water-protection) string, the casing shall be perforated and cement circulated up the annulus to a minimum fill-up of 100 feet. A plug of equal length shall be placed inside the casing.

f. From a point not less than 50 feet below surface, a cement plug shall be installed which reaches the surface. If any uncemented annuli are present at the surface, the voids should be filled and sealed to the greatest extent possible by introducing cement from the surface.

g. All intervals below and between plugs shall be filled with drilling mud, bentonite gel, or other appropriately weighted materials approved by the director.

4. If casing is to be pulled, plugging shall be as follows:

a. All perforated intervals shall be isolated as described in subdivision C 1 of this section.

b. Casing stubs shall be isolated by placing a plug across or above the cut-off point. Cement plugs shall be at least 100 feet in length and shall be placed so as to have approximately equal lengths inside and above the remnant casing. Permanent bridge plugs may be placed above the stub and shall be capped by at least 20 feet of cement.

D. Plugging operations involving uncemented water-protection casing or coal-protection casing.

1. If the annulus of the largest casing present across a minable coal-bearing section is not cemented across that section, then one of the two procedures listed below must be followed:

a. The casing must be perforated at least 50 feet below the lowest coal seam, and cement circulated in the annulus to the surface (if water-protection casing is absent or not properly placed and cemented to surface), or to at least 100 feet above the highest coal (if the casing is to be partially pulled to facilitate plugging operations in the fresh water zone). Plugging shall proceed according to cased hole requirements; or

b. The casing shall be pulled from the well, and plugging shall proceed according to open hole requirements.

2. If the annulus of the largest casing present across the fresh-water-bearing section is not cemented across that section, then one of the two procedures listed below must be followed:

a. The casing shall be perforated below the lowest known fresh-water zone or at a minimum depth of 300 feet. Cement shall be circulated in the annulus to the surface. Plugging shall proceed according to cased hole requirements; or

b. The casing shall be pulled from the well, and a continuous cement plug shall be placed from below the base of the lowest known fresh-water aquifer exposed to the wellbore, or 300-foot depth, whichever is deeper, to the surface.

E. Unfillable cavities. When an unfillable cavity such as a cavern, mine void, blast stimulation zone or gob completion is encountered, the section shall be plugged as follows:

1. If the stratum with the unfillable cavities is the lowest gas or oil stratum in the well, a plug shall be placed at the nearest suitable point not less than 20 feet above the stratum. Cement plugs shall be at least 100 feet long, and at least 20 feet of cement shall be placed on top of bridge plugs.

2. If the stratum with unfillable cavities is above the lowest gas or oil stratum, a plug shall be placed below the stratum and shall extend to within 20 feet of its base. A plug shall also be placed above the stratum as described in subdivision E 1 of this section.

Statutory Authority

§§ 45.1-161.3 and 45.1-361.27 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 15, Issue 2, eff. November 11, 1998.

4VAC25-150-440. Abandonment of a gas or oil well or corehole as a water well.

A permittee wishing to develop a gas or oil well or corehole as a water well shall submit an application for a permit modification in accordance with 4VAC25-150-110.

Statutory Authority

§§ 45.1-161.3 and 45.1-361.27 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR480-05-22.1 § 1.44, eff. September 25, 1991; amended, Virginia Register Volume 15, Issue 2, eff. November 11, 1998.

4VAC25-150-450. Identification, plugging and control of wells or coreholes in which radioactive source logging tools have been abandoned.

A. Permittees shall, by the quickest available means, notify the division of the loss of a radioactive source in a well or corehole.

B. No radioactive source shall be declared abandoned until all reasonable effort has been expended to retrieve the radioactive source tool.

C. A well or corehole in which a radioactive source has been abandoned shall be mechanically equipped and plugged so as to prevent either accidental or intentional mechanical disintegration of the radioactive source, as follows:

1. Sources abandoned in the bottom of the hole shall be covered with a 100-foot standard color cement plug, dyed with red iron oxide, and an approved deflection device shall be placed on top of the plug. The dye is to alert any reentry operator prior to encountering the source. From this point to the surface, the well or corehole shall be plugged as provided in 4VAC25-150-435.

2. Sources lost in locations other than in the bottom of the hole shall be abandoned in accordance with the following standards:

a. If a well or corehole with the lost radioactive source will be abandoned and plugged, then a 100-foot standard color cement plug, dyed with red iron oxide, shall be placed above the abandoned source and an approved deflection device shall be placed on top of the plug. From this point to the surface, the well or corehole shall be plugged as provided in 4VAC25-150-435.

b. If a well or corehole is to be deviated or sidetracked around a lost radioactive source, then a 100-foot standard color cement plug, dyed with red iron oxide, shall be placed above the abandoned source, and an approved deflection device shall be placed on top of the plug.

c. Upon abandoning a well in which a radioactive source has been cemented in place behind a casing string above total depth, a 100-foot standard color cement plug, dyed with red iron oxide, shall be placed opposite the abandoned source and an approved deflection device placed on top of the plug, in addition to the plugging standards provided in 4VAC25-150-435.

3. If a permittee finds, after expending reasonable effort, that hole conditions make it impossible to abandon the source as prescribed in subdivision C 1 or C 2 of this section, then the permittee shall apply for a variance from the director for an alternate abandonment procedure.

D. Upon plugging and abandoning any well or corehole in which a radioactive source has been left in the hole, and after removing the wellhead equipment, a permanent plaque shall be attached to the top of the casing left in the hole in such a manner that reentry cannot be accomplished without disturbing the plaque. The plaque shall serve as a visual warning to any person reentering the hole that a radioactive source has been abandoned in place in the well. The plaque shall contain the trefoil radiation symbol with a radioactive warning and shall be constructed of a long-lasting material such as monel, stainless steel or brass.

E. The permittee shall erect a permanent marker as a visual warning to any person who may reenter the hole for any reason, showing that the hole contains a radioactive source. In addition to meeting the requirements of 4VAC25-150-460, any marker for a hole containing a radioactive source shall bear the following information:

1. Surface location of the well;

2. Name of the lease;

3. Source of material abandoned in the well;

4. Total depth of the well;

5. Depth at which the source has been abandoned;

6. Date of the abandonment of the source;

7. Activity of the source;

8. Plug-back depth; and

9. A warning not to drill below the plug-back depth.

F. The information required by subsection E of this section shall be provided with the plugging affidavit submitted pursuant to 4VAC25-150-460.

Statutory Authority

§§ 45.1-161.3 and 45.1-361.27 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR480-05-22.1 § 1.45, eff. September 25, 1991; amended, Virginia Register Volume 15, Issue 2, eff. November 11, 1998.

4VAC25-150-460. Identifying plugged wells and coreholes; plugging affidavit.

A. Abandoned wells and coreholes shall be permanently marked in a manner as follows:

1. The marker shall extend not less than 30 inches above the surface and enough below the surface to make the marker permanent.

2. The marker shall indicate the permittee's name, the well name, the permit number and date of plugging.

B. A permittee may apply for a variance from the director to use alternate permanent markers. Such alternate markers shall provide sufficient information for locating the abandoned well or corehole. Provisions shall also be made to provide for the physical detection of the abandoned well or corehole from the surface by magnetic or other means including a certified map with the utilization of current GPS surveys.

C. When any well or corehole has been plugged or replugged in accordance with 4VAC25-150-435, two persons, experienced in plugging wells or coreholes, who participated in the plugging of a well or corehole, shall complete the plugging affidavit designated by the director, setting forth the time and manner in which the well or corehole was plugged and filled, and the permanent marker was placed.

D. One copy of the plugging affidavit shall be retained by the permittee, one shall be mailed to any coal owner or operator on the tract where the well or corehole is located, and one shall be filed with the division within 90 days after the day the well was plugged.

Statutory Authority

§§ 45.1-161.3 and 45.1-361.27 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR480-05-22.1 § 1.46, eff. September 25, 1991; amended, Virginia Register Volume 15, Issue 2, eff. November 11, 1998; Volume 29, Issue 3, eff. November 8, 2012; Volume 30, Issue 1, eff. October 10, 2013.

4VAC25-150-470. Release of bond.

A. Application for bond release.

A permittee desiring to have a bond released by the director shall apply in writing identifying the operation, and documenting that the well or disturbed land meets the requirements for partial or full bond release. A bond may be reduced or released by the director only in writing.

B. Partial bond release.

The portion of a permittee's bond covering disturbed land may be released as follows:

1. A permittee with an individual bond under § 45.1-361.31 A of the Code of Virginia shall be eligible for release of the portion of the bond covering disturbed land after the land has been successfully reclaimed to the standards of 4VAC25-150-260 of this chapter.

2. A permittee with a blanket bond under § 45.1-361.31 B of the Code of Virginia shall be eligible for release of 75% of the portion of the bond calculated on acreage of disturbed land after the land has been successfully reclaimed to the standards of 4VAC25-150-260 of this chapter.

C. Full bond release.

A permittee's bond or coverage of a well and land under a blanket bond is eligible for full release when:

1. A well has been plugged, the plugging affidavit has been submitted to the director and the land under the bond has been successfully reclaimed to the standards of 4VAC25-150-260 of this chapter;

2. The well is abandoned as a water well in accordance with 4VAC25-150-440 of this chapter and the land under the bond has been successfully reclaimed to the standards of 4VAC25-150-260 of this chapter;

3. The well is abandoned as a vertical ventilation hole in accordance with 4VAC25-150-650 of this chapter and the land under the bond is permitted by the department's Division of Mined Land Reclamation or has been successfully reclaimed to the standards of 4VAC25-150-260 of this chapter; or

4. Other bond has been accepted by the director.

Statutory Authority

§§ 45.1-161.3 and 45.1-361.27 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR480-05-22.1 § 1.47, eff. September 25, 1991.

4VAC25-150-480. Orphaned wells; right of entry.

A. Written consent from the owner of record or lessee, or their authorized agents, is the preferred means for obtaining agreements to enter lands in order to carry out plugging of orphaned wells and restoration of their sites. Nonconsensual entry under § 45.1- 361.27 E of the Code of Virginia shall be undertaken only after reasonable efforts have been made to obtain written consent.

B. Consent and entry shall meet the following standards:

1. The director or authorized contractors may enter lands to perform plugging and restoration activities or to conduct studies or investigations of orphaned wells if consent from the owner is obtained.

2. If consent is not obtained, then, prior to entry under this section, the director shall find, in writing, with supporting reasons, that:

a. Citizens or the environment of the Commonwealth or persons involved in coal or mineral mining may be at risk from an orphaned well; and

b. The owner of the land where entry must be made to plug an orphaned well and restore the site is not known or readily available, or the owner will not give permission for the director or authorized contractors to enter to plug the orphaned well and reclaim the site.

C. If consent is not obtained, the director shall give notice of his intent to enter for the purposes of conducting plugging and restoration at least 30 days before entry into the property. The notice shall be in writing and shall be mailed, return receipt requested, to the owner, if known, with a copy of the findings required by this section. If the owner is not known, or if the current mailing address of the owner is not known, notice shall be posted in one or more places on the property to be entered, where it is readily visible to the public. The notice posted on the property and the newspaper notice pursuant to § 45.1-361.40 C of the Code of Virginia shall include a statement of where the findings required by this section may be inspected or obtained.

Statutory Authority

§§ 45.1-161.3 and 45.1-361.27 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR480-05-22.1 § 1.48, eff. September 25, 1991.

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