The search for abandoned oil and gas wells

An abandoned well in Texas

From upstate New York to southern California, abandoned oil and gas wells are a big, largely undocumented problem. But thanks to last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, states are finally trying to account for just how big of a cleanup job they have ahead.

When oil and gas companies abandon wells without plugging them, they can pose a big risk to human and environmental health. Toxic substances like arsenic, formaldehyde and benzene can pollute the surrounding air — potentially worsening asthma symptoms for those living near wells. And they can also emit methane — a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide — further worsening global warming. 

Last year, states reported they’d tracked 81,000 abandoned wells in need of cleanup. But after the U.S. Interior Department announced it would award $1.15 billion for plugging wells, states got serious about mapping the problem. They’ve now tracked 120,000 orphaned wells, according to a new analysis from the Environmental Defense Fund and McGill University.

And that number is likely to only […]

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