From ‘dirty secret’ to federally funded: Orphaned wells are finally getting the attention they need
SHELBY, Mt. — A veteran of the oil industry, Curtis Shuck is on a new path these days: cleaning up the mess left behind by orphaned wells.
Orphaned wells are oil or natural gas wells that have been abandoned by companies for one reason or another. Like a straw stuck into a juice box, these wells have been left open, many for decades, and are leaking toxins, like methane gas, into the environment.
But now, the problem of orphaned wells is becoming too big to be ignored. It’s hard to get exact numbers because the previous owners of the wells are defunct, but the environmental protection agency estimates there are at least 2.1 million wells across the united states.
“Orphan Wells themselves are somewhere between a 10th of a percent and a third of a percent of the U.S. climate footprint,” said Adam Peltz, senior attorney with the Environmental Defense Funs.
He said that along with being a leaker of methane gas, orphaned wells are also tied to ground water contamination and air toxins.
The infrastructure bill that’s been made law has set aside $1.15 billion to states to plug wells, and another $3.55 billion to create a new federal program to focus on the issue. Peltz says that’s an important piece.
“We need to figure out how to adjust policies so that those wells can be plugged in a timely fashion at the end of their lives,” said Peltz.