It was reported recently by Associated Press that there are more than 3,200 oil and gas wells, classified as active, lying abandoned beneath the Gulf of Mexico. These wells have no cement plugging to help prevent leaks that could threaten the same waters severely damaged by last year’s BP spill. Associated Press has been looking into this situation for a good while, and an extensive account of their findings can be found in an April 20th story. These wells could pose an even greater environmental threat than the 27,000 wells in the Gulf that have been plugged and classified officially as “permanently abandoned” or “temporarily abandoned.” Those sealed wells were first tallied and reported as a major leaking threat in an investigative report by Associated Press in July.
According to Associated Press, the unplugged wells haven’t been used for at least five years. The federal government says there are no plans to restore production on them. Operators have not been required to plug the wells because their leases have not expired. As a result, there appears to be little to prevent powerful leaks from pushing to the surface. Even depleted wells can re-pressurize from work on nearby wells or shifts in oil or gas layers beneath the surface. Unfortunately, no one is watching to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen.
Federal regulators have acknowledged that even some plugged wells have leaked in the past. And, as the AP disclosed last summer, there is no routine monitoring of abandoned wells – plugged or unplugged. The oil and gas industry generally views plugging on unexpired leases as an inconvenience and prefers the freedom to resume operations at any time on such wells. While I am not sure how dangerous these wells are, it does give me cause for concern.
Source: Associated Press
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