Orphan wells, also known as abandoned or inactive wells, can pose significant dangers to the environment and human health. These wells are no longer in use or have been abandoned by their operators for various reasons. Some wells are abandoned due to bankruptcy, while others are disowned due to the depletion of resources.
Environmental Impact of Orphan Wells
A major concern with orphan wells is the potential for leaks and spills. As these wells age and deteriorate, there is an increased risk of corrosion and structural failure, particularly in environments near saltwater. The deterioration of abandoned wells leads to the release of harmful substances such as methane, oil, and other chemicals. These leaks and spills can have a devastating impact on the environment, polluting soil, water, and air, and harming wildlife.
Orphan Wells a Danger to Citizens
Another danger of orphan wells is the potential for explosions and fires. Methane and other gases that escape from these wells can accumulate, creating a risk of explosion or fire. This can be especially dangerous in densely populated areas, where such incidents can result in significant property damage and loss of life. Explosions from methane buildup resulted in at least one fatality in Louisiana.
Stigma of Orphan Wells and Abandoned Operations
In addition to the physical dangers, orphan wells can also have a negative impact on the local economy. These wells can lower property values, making it difficult for homeowners and businesses to sell or develop their land. They can also discourage new development and economic growth in the area.
It is important to note that the number of orphan wells is increasing globally due to a variety of factors such as low oil prices, natural decline of oil production and companies going bankrupt. Small operators can take profits producing, then declare bankruptcy when a well ceases production or becomes an environmental liability.
Government and Citizens Stuck with the Bill
This type of operation impacts all citizens. The cost of cleaning up and plugging orphan wells can be significant, and often falls on taxpayers or the government. Many orphan wells are in poor shape due to a lack of maintenance. These wells must be closed and remediated to avoid more significant environmental disaster. That responsibility is increasingly left to the individual states and her citizens. Louisiana recently received a $25 million grant from the Biden Administration via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
This grant will go toward plugging, capping and reclaiming orphaned oil and gas wells in the state. This should fund the plugging of roughly 250 orphaned oil wells that pose a danger to people and the environment.