A federally funded stimulus program aimed at plugging the growing number of “orphan” oil and gas wells could greatly reduce pollution while giving a much-needed boost to the state’s ailing oil industry, a new report says.

As Congress considers a new stimulus package of several trillion dollars to assist with the economic impacts from the coronavirus pandemic, a group of energy policy experts has published a report making the case that a fraction of the money should go toward plugging the millions of wells that have been abandoned by their owners and are now the responsibility of state governments. Louisiana has documented nearly 4,300 such wells, and the number is expected to rise as more companies shut down wells due to low oil prices and a faltering economy.

“Plugging wells is a win-win opportunity that would provide good work for people negatively affected by the downturn in the economy and provide environmental benefits,” said Daniel Raimi, a public policy researcher and co-author of a report by Columbia University and Resources for the Future, a Washington D.C. environmental policy think tank.

Orphan wells often leak oil and brine and emit methane, an air pollutant that harms air quality and contributes to climate change.

Plugging all of Louisiana’s orphan wells could employ just over 1,000 oil workers full-time for one year. It would also cut methane emissions by 558 metric tons per year, according to the report’s metrics. That’s the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions from more than 3,000 cars…

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