The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has released an additional $64 million to plug abandoned and orphaned wells on federal public land: national wildlife refuges, forests, parks, and Bureau of Land Management sites. These abandoned wells leak climate-warming methane and release toxic gases. Funding also supports Wyoming, New Mexico, Montana, and Utah with pre- and post-plugging remediation for National Park Service locations.Nationally, around 300 orphan oil and gas well sites will be cleaned up via this funding. There may be as many as 3 million abandoned wells across the United States.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), the regulatory agency for oil and gas drilling (as well as utilities and phone services), is exploring offering carbon credits for well plugging.
A new Oklahoma law allows registration and sale of carbon credits based on well plugging to prevent additional methane emissions: profits will be used to plug additional abandoned/orphaned wells.
Methane emissions from abandoned/orphaned wells will be measured, and the carbon credits will be based on the amount of methane no longer being released after plugging.
Oklahoma may have over 17,000 abandoned wells, and carbon credits from shutting down their methane emissions can be sold to companies seeking to offset their carbon footprint or meet environmental mandates.
This “carbon finance” is an innovation that can help create a funding flow to boost plugging efforts, and to encourage discovery of old wells and prioritize the plugging of wells that emit high levels of methane. The OCC is working on integration of carbon credits into the state’s current plugging program.
As many as 45 orphaned wells at Oklahoma’s Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge will be plugged with the recent DOI funding, with plans to plug 145 wells.
Tennessee, with more than 300 orphan wells, will remediate 5 gas wells in the Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area, which includes the Big South Fork and the Cumberland rivers.
Kentucky, with over 14,000 orphaned/abandoned wells, will plug and remediate over 100 abandoned well sites in the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Pennsylvania may have over 250,000 abandoned drilling sites. Many are in remote sites, pre-date regulations and reporting requirements, and lack any records. With such a concentration of unplugged and unmaintained wells, fracking activity nearby causes old (and often unmarked) wells to spew methane and toxic liquids.
Over 27,000 orphaned wells have been identified in Pennsylvania, and about 3,300 of these have been plugged: Plugging these wells can cost from $10,000 to $200,000 or more. The state prioritizes plugging wells that affect human health and the environment.
In Colorado, there are more than 1,100 orphan wells. In Adams County, 42 abandoned wells are slated for remediation with partnership funding from industry, the state, and the county.
While methane emissions from wells can now be more accurately measured, the underground movement of methane – seeping into aquifers and through soil – cannot be determined. Plugging and sealing of abandoned/orphaned wells to prevent fugitive emissions and methane leaks is the most effective method of preventing contamination of air, water, and soil.
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