Friday, January 07, 2022

Interior: U.S. has twice as many abandoned oil, gas wells as previously thought; problem is widespread in rural America

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

"The U.S. has more than double the amount of abandoned oil and gas wells than previously thought, according to a preliminary analysis by the Interior Department," Zack Budryk reports for The Hill. "In a memo Wednesday, the department said there are currently more than 130,000 documented abandoned, or orphaned, wells. Comparatively, a 2019 report from the Interior documented a total of 56,600 orphaned wells across 30 states. Across the entire country they found that the number of abandoned wells in that report ranged from zero to 13,226."

Nearly every state has abandoned and orphaned wells, and it's a big health and safety issue in many rural areas. Drillers are supposed to plug their wells but often don't; such abandoned wells often leak hazardous waste and methane, and damage the health of those living nearby. In November, the Environmental Defense Fund published a map of documented abandoned wells (see above). 

The infrastructure bill signed in November has $4.7 billion to clean up old wells. On Dec. 17, Interior released guidelines for states that want to apply for grants under the program; 26 have signaled their intent to apply so far. "States applying for funding included Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming, according to the memo," Budryk reports. "The Interior Department is set to publish the full amount of grant funding each state is eligible to receive in the months ahead, according to the memo."

The money allocated by the infrastructure bill won't be enough money to plug every well, Adam Peltz of the Environmental Defense Fund said during a Thursday webinar held by Interior's Bureau of Land Management Thursday about its well reclamation program. Panelists said "Plugging an orphaned well is not the same as plugging a well that hasn’t been abandoned, and plugging doesn’t include reclamation and remediation of the sites," Hannah Grover reports for NM Political Report

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