Biden administration, state officials plan to plug ‘orphan wells’ across the United States

Stacks of valves, nets of pipes and holings, littered parts of the swampy landscape of two-story tall tanks. The Atchafalia Basin of LouisianaRusting remains of sites where oil wells were drilled in the 1970s, an unwanted legacy of the energy industry that has long helped drive Louisiana’s economy.

These are among an estimated 2 million unplugged U.S. “orphan wells,” abandoned by the companies that drilled them. Louisiana has more than 4,500 such wells, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Owners can’t be found, gone out of business or otherwise can’t be paid in a state where legislation and litigation over the environmental impact of oil and gas drilling has been a political battle for decades. Discussions are ongoing.

The Biden administration plans to tackle the problem nationally with $4.7 billion from a bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in late 2021. Administration officials recently joined their state counterparts at the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge to advance the effort.

The Biden administration encourages conservation projects on private lands in an effort to save endangered species

“The state and federal government, because of the threat they pose, we’re left to clean them up,” said Martha Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She was visiting the B-5 well site with Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Thomas Harris and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montecet.

A small alligator swims in pooled water around the dilapidated infrastructure of an “orphan well” site in Lottie, Louisiana, on February 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Abandoned wells can leak oil field brine. Cancer-causing chemicals which are components of crude oil, such as benzene. They can also emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The conservation group was awarded $40 million to improve the fish’s natural habitat

In south Louisiana’s wetlands, where saltwater can exacerbate degradation, inefficient wells threaten the ecological health of an area that is home to an abundance of wildlife: numerous species of migratory birds; deer, beaver, bear and a variety of other mammals; Among many other reptiles, the once-endangered crocodile. Coastal wetlands also serve as nurseries for Gulf of Mexico crabs, crabs and other fish species.

Williams’ agency announced last year that it had received more than $13 million in infrastructure bill money to restore 175 orphan wells on six national wildlife refuges in Oklahoma and Louisiana.

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Monteset said the increase in money to help plug the wells is welcome, but he also pointed to the need for more oversight by the state.

“With this new one Money injection And by solving the problem that we have, I think we’re on the right track,” Montoucet said. “And from now on, when people come to get applications to drill, definitely make sure that We will have more rules to make. These sites are not left as such.”

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