Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Abandoned oil and gas wells, coal mines, hurt environment and locals' health; infrastructure funds earmarked to help

Map of documented abandoned wells from Environmental Defense Fund report; to enlarge, click on it or go here.

Coal, oil and natural gas have been major economic drivers in many rural areas, but these extractive industries have in many cases damaged the environment, and in some health of nearby residents, and too often failed to clean up after themselves. Federal funding can make a dent in the problem.

"In Pennsylvania, underground mine fires burn and iron-laden, acidic water pours into rivers from abandoned mine shafts. In New Hampshire, the iconic sugar maple is threatened by soil damage lingering from coal-induced acid rain," James Bruggers reports for Inside Climate News. "In Florida, a young mother obsesses over air and water pollution from a vast pile of coal ash stored by her local utility. And in Kentucky, the multi-billion dollar cost of reclaiming abandoned mines . . . far exceeds the amount of surety bonds left behind by an increasing number of bankrupt coal companies. "

Many states don't require coal companies to buy enough bonds for reclamation. That means bankrupt companies often leave rural places to pay for the cleanup themselves or suffer the environmental consequences. "Across Appalachia, mountaintop removal and other forms of surface mining have scarred an area of more than 2,300 square miles in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee. Nationwide, over a million acres of land used by still operating, idle or abandoned mines need to be cleaned up and reclaimed," Bruggers reports.

Meanwhile, there are more than 2 million inactive, unplugged oil and gas wells scattered across the U.S., according to a recently published map from the Environmental Defense Fund. Such wells often poison groundwater and leak the potent greenhouse gas methane. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the wells could leak as much methane per year as 5 million cars. The EDF's map shows 81,000 abandoned wells that are documented as having no owner.

Cleaning up abandoned fossil fuel sites is cost-prohibitive for states. It costs an average of $25,000 to $475,000 to close each oil or gas well. And a recent report found that it will cost as much as $9.8 billion to reclaim coal mines in Central Appalachia. On the upside: the recently signed infrastructure bill included $16 billion to clean up abandoned mines and old oil and gas wells.

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