(MENAFN - Arab News) The Ministry of Water and Electricity has discovered 130,000 abandoned and unlicensed wells in the country and have already fined several people for violating environmental and safety regulations, an official said recently.
The death of six-year-old Lama Al-Rouqi in a Tabuk well over two weeks ago has seen authorities launch plans to close abandoned and unsafe wells across the country. Rescuers failed to save the child because of adverse weather conditions and loose soil surrounding the well.
Said Al-Daayer, director general of water resources development at the ministry, said some of these wells are manmade while others are boreholes. "But the ministry is in the process of looking up their owners to close them permanently," he said.
He said wells on government property would be closed at the ministry's expense. "A plan is being developed and will be in place following the endorsement of the assigned budget," he said.
"Encroachment supervisors monitor well-drilling operations across the Kingdom. It was during these inspections that they spotted the violations and fined the offenders," said Al-Daayer.
Al-Daayer said water resource directorates in the Kingdom, with the Civil Defense and security agencies, have conducted search operations for abandoned wells, and forced owners to either surround them with fences, or close them permanently.
He said inspectors sometimes have difficulty entering private properties and spotting the wells unless people are using mechanical diggers. Most well owners use various methods to conceal them on their properties, he said.
Most violations take place in remote areas, he said. Any unlicensed drilling operations on state property are regarded as encroachments. He said encroachment committees prepare reports of violations, which are referred to the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs.
He said the water and electricity ministry only permits licensed drilling in compliance with the royal decree on water conservation. "One of the conditions stated in the decree is that the applicant should be the original owner of the land where the drilling will take place. The other condition is that the ministry or one of the specialized consultant offices should supervise the drilling operation," he said.
A land owner and contractor have to pay a fine of SR25,000 if the drilling is being done in sedimentary rock, and SR5,000 if it is done into the Precambrian Proterozoic Arabian Shield Cover, which is a rock millions of years old.
According to the ministry's recent statistics, there are 144,000 licensed wells in Saudi Arabia, of which 137,000 are operating privately. Both government-owned and private wells provide water for drinking and agricultural purposes.
In 2011, there was an estimated 7,114 government wells, with 3,334 supplying drinking water through pipes and 2,578 where water was drawn manually.
There were 6,162 government wells in 2007, 6,422 in 2008, 6,649 in 2009, and 6,872 in 2010. There were 127,000 licensed private wells in 2007, 129,000 in 2008, 131,000 in 2009, and 137,000 in 2011.
Statistics show that the Riyadh region has the largest number of licensed private wells with 61,000, followed by Qassim, Hail, Tabuk, Jouf and the Northern Borders with 46,000. Baha, Asir, Najran and Jazan have 10,312 wells, followed by the Eastern Province with 10,000, and Makkah and Madinah with 8,000 each.