Those that enjoyed the bounty of income literally pumped out of the ground have left tens of thousands of defunct wells for society to clean up. Once you punch a hole down into fossil fuel rich strata, you have created a channel for the nasty stuff to travel to higher layers and to the atmosphere. So old wells cause pollution long after they are no longer economically productive.
Since it’s expensively inconvenient to plug them, they now litter the landscape and belch toxins.
As part of the infrastructure bill last year, states will receive $4.7 billion to plug oil and gas wells that were abandoned by the oil companies that drilled them, wells that release dangerous levels of pollution and emissions. This year there have been $560 million in initial grants, with $100 million bound for Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. That will be followed by $2 billion in formula grants based on how many orphaned wells are in a state, and then $1.5 billion based on performance. Because of the incentive to figure out precisely how many wells they’re dealing with, the hunt is on to find and count them all ahead of the formula grant. As a result, the number of documented orphan wells in the U.S. rose from 82,000 last September to 123,000 as of April. It’s not cheap to plug a well: Kentucky expects it to cost $20,000 per well, while the topographically challenging West Virginia is estimating $157,000 per well.
Heather Richards, E&E News via Numlock News