Billions of dollars to clean up abandoned oil and gas wells will only make a dent


An infusion of federal money has helped Louisiana plug nearly 500 abandoned oil and gas wells this year, reports Louisiana Illuminator.

That number doesn’t come close to the 4,500 abandoned wells that pock the state’s terrain, leaving the potential for groundwater contamination and the near-certainty of greenhouse gas emissions. But the money has allowed the state to nearly double the record number of wells it has plugged in a year.

“Everything helps,” says Patrick Courreges, spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. “If we didn’t have the federal help, we’d be over 5,000 [abandoned wells].”

Louisiana is among 24 states that received millions of dollars for well plugging from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which made the largest investment in legacy pollution reduction in American history.

But in many ways, the difficult work is just beginning. Of the $4.7 billion the law set aside for plugging wells that oil and gas companies have abandoned, $560 million has gone out so far. The rest will be spent in the coming years.

During the first round of grants, the feds didn’t require states to calculate the methane emissions each plug prevents. But from now on, states seeking grants will have to measure methane releases at each well. That will require states to develop new methods and spend more time and money. And the workforce shortage only makes it harder for states to use their grants.

Long-standing state programs to tackle the problem, usually backed by fees from oil and gas companies, generally have targeted the most problematic wells, such as those with visible leaks or spills. But countless others remain, allowing methane or carcinogens to escape.

“It’s easy to see a blowout. It’s tougher to see 100 small leaks,” Courreges says. “I think you’re just now seeing regulators figuring out, ‘OK, how do we approach that? How do we do that?’ Obviously, you’re probably going to need more funding for everybody.”

In Louisiana, the state generally has $10 million to $12 million available each year for well site restoration efforts, Courreges says. The state received $25 million in its first round of federal funding from the infrastructure law and is primed to receive some $86 million more.

Read the full story from Louisiana Illuminator.