Feb 3, 2022
The US government is trying to tackle the issue by sending $1.15 billion to 26 states in order to plug leaky abandoned oil and gas wells
The methane that is quietly oozing from abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States is invisible and odorless—yet it has the ability to wreak havoc on the climate in a major way. Compared to CO2, methane is a much more potent climate gas. It exhibits 25-80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in addition to acting faster.
A reduction of methane emissions could therefore slow the progress of climate change in the short term, scientists hope. The United States government is now trying to tackle the issue by sending a total of $1.15 billion to 26 states in order to plug leaky abandoned extraction sites of the oil and gas industries. The total well cleanup sum of $4.7 billion is part of the bipartisan physical infrastructure deal, The Washington Post reports.
While estimations on the number of abandoned wells in the country differ, the EPA applies one of the highest estimates at more than three million. Numbers by the agency going back to 1990 highlight the problem of leaky oil and gas wells. Efforts to plug existing orphan wells and make sure companies are liable to do the same when abandoning their work sites have progressed. As a result, a higher share of abandoned wells in the U.S. is plugged today than was 30 years ago.
But, because there are more wells being abandoned as the industry is booming, the absolute number of abandoned wells—and therefore the amount of climate gases they emit—has stayed the same. In 1990, there were around 286,000 orphaned gas wells and around 1.7 million orphaned oil wells that were unplugged, compared with approximately 382,000 and 1.6 million in 2019.
No real progress made?
Therefore, despite ongoing efforts to plug the wells, their negative track record has not improved much. In the past three decades, methane emissions from oil and gas wells in disuse only improved by 8,000 tons to 263,000 tons. If converted, this level of methane pollution is equivalent to 6.6 million tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere each year.
Plugging all wells would have the same impact as getting 1.4 million cars off the road or adding 17 million trees to the country, according to the California Air Resources Board. The effort comes after the United States, together with more than 100 other nations, pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% until the year 2030.