Who will clean up America’s abandoned oil wells? | FT Energy Source

America’s oil rush has left a toxic legacy: abandoned wells leaching pollutants into the atmosphere, ground and water. Millions lie scattered across the country, including so-called “orphans”, whose original owners have either disappeared or gone bust.

These rolling hills high in the northeast of the united states may seem unspoiled but this region is the birthplace of the american oil industry the country’s first commercial oil well wasn’t sunk in texas but here in pennsylvania way back in 1859 it was the first of a vast number of wells drilled and worked dry across the state hey good morning miles when

Their welds are no longer viable responsible companies employ experts like luke plants to seal them up preventing any leaks or contamination in the future i’m going to give you one of these and then we’ll go take a look around the site that’d be great thank you very much but in the pioneering unregulated oil rush days many drill sites went unrecorded unplugged and

Abandoned and now honeycomb the ground including under cities and towns many wells exist in places that have grown up around them so suburbs and urban areas that were developed long after the well was drilled and now they present a threat to human life these images from pennsylvania’s department of environmental protection show toxic gas and liquids belching from

Old wells contaminating the air and threatening to poison drinking water one study has estimated that the methane emissions from the us’s tally of abandoned wells is equivalent to the annual co2 output of 2.1 million cars some forgotten well heads have even been uncovered under people’s homes plugging and sealing off a disused well is hazardous highly specialized


Work that can take a lot of time and money watch your step the idea sounds simple enough insert pipes into the well using this towering rig then link them up to inject concrete into all the nooks and crannies below so you’re going from the bottom all the way up to the top until uh finally you’ve completely sealed off your wellbore but not every job is the same

Old bores that have crumbled or collapsed can take a month to excavate and plug and the sheer number of abandoned wells in this state alone is staggering since the country’s first oil well was drilled in titusville pennsylvania 70 miles to my west there have been hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells drilled across the state a dep map shows the extent of

The problem in pennsylvania the locations of plugged wells in blue swamped by the uncapped abandoned wells found so far in red and green many more disused and undiscovered wells lie scattered across the country to tune into the wider scale of the problem i’ve crossed state lines to washington dc to meet daniel raymie an academic and expert on the subject

At environmental think tank resources for the future daniel how are you i’m doing well nice to see you nice to see you too thanks spirit thanks for having us in what kind of scale of a problem are we talking here the scale is actually pretty staggering the us epa estimates that there are about 2.1 million abandoned unplugged oil and gas wells scattered across

The country these are wells that aren’t being used for production or injection or other productive purposes and they also haven’t been plugged they haven’t been sealed off in addition to those 2.1 million wells there are estimates that there are up to 1 million orphaned oil and gas wells these are also abandoned but they don’t have a legal owner the dilemma

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Surrounding so-called orphaned wells is that their original owners have either disappeared or gone bankrupt orphans effectively become wards of the state meaning taxpayers are left to cover the costs of making them safe one estimate puts the average cost of plugging and cleaning up an open well at seventy six thousand dollars but contractors say that figure can

Vary from 10 000 to 1.5 million dollars depending on the well before breaking ground on any new weld plot oil companies generally pay a bond upfront to the relevant state or federal authority in theory it’s there to cover the cost of any future cleanup should the company go bust but in practice any securities paid are rarely enough the problem is almost all

Of the regulations at the state level don’t give regulators enough money to actually plug the wells that would become orphaned when a company goes bankrupt help for cash-struck states may be on the way around five billion dollars has been specifically set aside for cleaning up old wells in a bipartisan infrastructure bill making its way through congress that

Figure falls short of proposals put forward by president biden but i wonder whether a share of the funds would make a real difference for states like pennsylvania its pioneering history of unfettered unrecorded drilling means that the keystone state is thought to have by far the most abandoned wells in america on the way home i dropped by the state capital of

Harrisburg to meet scott perry it’s his team at the department of environmental protection who arrange the plugging of problem wells when no one else can or will pay the budget is tight and cleanup jobs have to be prioritized every well we find we rank it according to its threat to public safety to the environment so would a slice of the infrastructure bill


Money make a significant dent in the long list of leaky wells to be fixed if we’re only able to plug say 10 wells a year we’ve got 8500 to go we’re we’re in for a long haul but the federal stimulus money could potentially enable us to clear that ledger much has been made of the potential for new jobs as politicians weigh the benefits of the multi-billion dollar

Cleanup bill but many experts say policymakers need to think longer term to tackle the root of the problem they argue any federal handouts should be tied to commitments from states to reform their bonding systems so that they can better afford to deal with the issue in future that will become all the more critical as a transition away from oil and gas in the

Coming decades risks a dramatic rise in the number of wells being abandoned and unless states force the industry to shell out the cleanup costs up front taxpayers could be left once again footing a hefty bill

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Who will clean up America's abandoned oil wells? | FT Energy Source By Financial Times

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