In the last 150 years, prospectors and energy companies have drilled as many as 12 million holes across the United States in search of oil and gas. Many of those holes were plugged after they dried up. But hundreds of thousands were simply abandoned and forgotten, often leaving no records of their existence. Government reports have warned for decades that abandoned wells can provide pathways for oil, gas or brine-laden water to contaminate groundwater supplies or to travel up to the surface. Abandoned wells have polluted the drinking water source for Fort Knox, Kentucky, and leaked oil into water wells in Ohio and Michigan. Similar problems have occurred in Texas, New York, Colorado and other states where drilling has occurred.
That report also documented at least two dozen other cases of gas seeping from old wells, including three where the drilling of new wells “communicated” with old wells, leaking gas into water supplies and forcing the evacuation of a home. Such incidents rarely receive much attention outside the states and neighborhoods they affect. But as the nation’s latest drilling boom continues, abandoned wells have begun attracting more attention, particularly in states where the earth is already pockmarked with holes left by earlier waves of extraction. New wells sometimes disturb layers of rock and dirt near fragile old wells, leading to new cases of contamination. It found that states had located nearly 60,000 wells that needed to be plugged — and estimated that as many as a million more may be out there. In Pennsylvania alone, regulators estimate that 184,000 wells were drilled before records were kept. Many of those wells were plugged with stumps, rocks or nothing at all.
Title: Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells Contaminate US water supply
Author: Nicholas Kusnetz Publication: Huffington Post, April 4, 2011
Student Researcher: Nzinga Dotson-Newman
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips