Coronavirus could drive ‘mass abandonment’ of oil wells

E&E News discusses how the coronavirus could drive ‘mass abandonment’ of oil wells.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s shaken the global oil sector, oil states fighting to restart their economies may face another kind of crisis: orphaned wells.

The pandemic could add thousands of wells to already-strapped programs to reclaim old oil infrastructure in the West and Appalachia. Some states have cleanup programs and funding streams dating from previous orphan well crises. Others don’t. Most are expecting their numbers to go up.

“There is no way to put a hard number on it, but we know it’s coming,” said Patrick Courreges, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. “We are fully expecting to see another big wave.”

Louisiana plugs about 180 orphaned wells a year, paid for from a tax on industry. The state’s current count, however, is 4,000.

There are more than 3 million abandoned wells pockmarking the country today, from Louisiana’s coast to backcountry Kentucky to Wyoming’s high desert (Energywire, May 20, 2019). Orphans are wells that have no ties to a solvent company or responsible party, and so their cleanup falls to the state or federal government. Costs range from the thousands to, in some instances, millions per well (Energywire, Nov. 7, 2019).

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