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Converting orphaned oil wells to water wells has run into some resistance

North Dakota’s mineral resources director says a program to convert some orphan oil wells to water wells for livestock is meeting some resistance from federal agencies.

Lynn Helms said six such wells have been converted – in the Fox Hills field. And he said livestock producers are very happy with those wells.

"They're highly productive," Helms said. "They're deep, and extremely expensive for a grazing association or a rancher to actually drill one. So, here's an opportunity to use existing infrastructure."

But Helms said it’s getting pushback from the federal Interior Department – because of its “30 by 30” effort to conserve 30 percent of US land and water by 2030.

"They would like to see the infrastructure completely disappear from the Dakota Prairie Grasslands," Helms said.

And that includes roads and electric power structures.

"We're not increasing any disturbance," Helms said. "In fact, we're actually decreasing the disturbance to where there will be a remnant of a road, with someone visiting the sight occasionally on a four-wheeler."

Helms said the feds also question liability for those wells. But he said when the grazing association or a rancher applies for one of those wells, they assume the liability – and the state Industrial Commission has the liability for the reclaimed wells.

Helms says he thinks the state will win this one.

"So far, the North Dakota :Legislature has agreed on the funding to take that number of about six wells up by 16," Helms said. "That would be hugely beneficial to our livestock producers in western North Dakota."

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