The impact of abandoned oil wells

ABANDONED WELL: This abandoned oil well sits with no purpose in South Texas. Image Courtesy of Eric Gay

Ben Meyler | Writer

February 7, 2021

As many countries across the world focus on improving environmental practices and reducing emissions, recent studies show that abandoned gas and oil wells may be having a severe impact on the environment. Across the US and Canada, methane is leaking out of millions of abandoned gas and oil wells, contributing significantly to climate change. More than a century of gas and oil drilling has left behind millions of abandoned wells.

It’s not only the US and Canada having this problem; there are millions of abandoned wells around the world. In the Gulf of Mexico, tens of thousands of wells are leaking methane gas right into the ocean, polluting the waters and destroying habitats. Methane is not the only substance leaking from these abandoned sites. Some of these wells are also releasing other gasses into the environment such as nitrogen oxides, benzene, and carbon dioxide. These gasses are not only bad for the environment, but they also pose a threat to public health. For example, there have been many instances in which abandoned wells have been linked to groundwater contamination. Abandoned wells have been to blame for a few public safety incidents over the past years, including a methane explosion at the construction site of a waterfront hotel in California last year.

METHANE LEAK: Methane leaked from an oil well is shown contaminating the ocean’s waters. Image Courtesy of Andrew Thurber

Oil and gas are necessary resources for society to function, but after the materials are depleted, they sit abandoned, useless, and they continue to contribute to the global climate crisis. “I know gas and oil wells are significant to our society,” junior Liam Smith said. “But when it’s abandoned and just sitting there damaging the environment, what’s the point?”

These methane leaks and their impact on the environment can be prevented. When no longer in use, these wells must be properly closed and sealed to prevent fluid or gas from escaping and to keep people and wildlife safe. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, as of 2016, there were an estimated 3.2 million inactive gas and oil wells in America, and of these 69 percent (more than 2 million) are improperly sealed and closed. Environmental organizations are beginning to understand the severity of the situation. Better management of these abandoned wells might even give energy companies time to introduce long term green policies by handling the current situation without slowing down fossil fuel production. “The world needs to start putting in extra effort to help save the economy before it’s too late,” junior Madi Young said. 

Abandoned wells have been overlooked for decades and they are a big problem on a global scale. Harmful gasses leaking into the atmosphere could speed up climate change. Companies will always try to justify the need to continue producing cheap fossil fuels to provide affordable energy; however, people and the government are putting pressure on them to reduce emissions. Leaking wells present a major problem for the public with no reward.

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