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Energy Efficiency

Plugging Abandoned Oil Wells Reduces Emissions and Creates Jobs

David Thielen

There’s a new opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create new jobs in the United States: plugging abandoned oil and gas wells across America. A recent bipartisan infrastructure funding framework is now in place to clean up these sites, which have been remarkably undercounted until the last few years. Congress has committed $4.7 billion for this work, which will be available this summer. With each site contributing significant carbon emissions, closing these wells will have an enormously positive environmental impact – and add thousands of new green jobs to local economies.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there may be more than three million of these sites across America, two million of which are old sites that were never properly sealed. In Oklahoma alone, the number of abandoned wells has soared from around 3,000 to nearly 18,000, with significant increases also seen in states like Colorado and California. The increase comes as a result of more site inspections during the pandemic when oil production initially plummeted and inspectors were able to update site lists. These orphaned sites negatively impact both the environment and the economy. Each well slowly leaks greenhouse gas methane into the environment, raising carbon emissions and leading to an increase in poor health effects for  the local community due to the toxic chemicals.

“It’s been a perfect storm,” said Matt Skinner, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. “ This is not an exercise in futility…the resources are going to be there.”

Photo Courtesy Jeff W 

More than half of American states have voiced plans to apply for the congressional money to clean up sites. The new federal administration is certain this is money well-spent: the clean-up will significantly impact efforts to lower carbon emissions, helping the country reach its latest carbon emissions reduction targets. Additionally, the work is expected to add hundreds of thousands of new employment opportunities to communities particularly hard hit by the pandemic and lost fossil-fuel infrastructure jobs. The federal funding also includes initial jumpstart grants for high-priority emissions wells.

The state interest in funding could not come at a better time. In addition to being landscape eyesores, abandoned wells release millions of tons of methane – a gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide – every 20 years. Plugging the wells has a direct and effective result of 99 percent fewer emissions from each site. With across-the-aisle support from both Republicans and Democrats, the well-plugging is set to create numerous jobs that put green money in the pockets of hard-working Americans while making the air and land cleaner and safer for everyone.

Photo Courtesy Dan Meyers
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