BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — More than 100 abandoned oil wells, which can leak cancer-causing chemicals and threaten the environmental health of an area, in Louisiana have been plugged during the last two months, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday.
There are more than 4,500 “orphaned wells” in Louisiana, a number accelerated by downturns in the prices of oil and gas in recent years that put financial strains on fossil fuel companies and their ability to maintain their sites or their businesses. Many times the owners of the sites can’t be found, have gone out of business or otherwise can’t be made to pay, according to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.
Most of the state’s orphaned wells, nearly 70% of them, are located in north Louisiana.
The Biden administration plans to tackle the problem nationally with $4.7 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in late 2021. Administration officials joined their state counterparts in the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge recently to tout the efforts. Louisiana was awarded $25 million in initial federal grant funds to address the problem.
“Every well site removed is one less pathway for methane, oil, or saltwater contamination to reach the surface,” Edwards, a Democrat, said in a written statement.
Nationally, there are an estimated 2 million unplugged orphaned wells.
Abandoned wells can leak oilfield brine and cancer-causing chemicals that are components of crude oil, such as benzene. They also can emit methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide.