Unplugged Oil Wells in the Gulf of Mexico Costly to Contain

It’s been almost 100 years since giant oil companies like BP, Shell, Chevron and Exxon began to construct offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. A new study published in the journal Nature Energy found that approximately 14,000 wells which dot the skyline have been precariously abandoned in the Gulf and could cause significant environmental damage from leaks and spillage.

“Plugging and abandoning (P&Aing) wells is a policy priority because unplugged wells present potential financial and environmental risks to the public. We estimate that the cost to P&A all 14,000 unplugged, non-producing wells in U.S. Gulf of Mexico offshore waters, inland waters and wetlands is $30 billion,” the study concluded. Wells in shallower waters and closer to shores present larger environmental risks but costs much less to plug.  The owners of wells in federal waters, which are deeper and farther from shore, can be held responsible for the costs to contain them. Most of those wells are or were formerly owned by oil company giants. Offshore wells are far more profitable than land wells and more expensive to P&A.

Unfortunately extreme weather due to climate change has made abandoned offshore infrastructure more vulnerable to major storms like Hurricane Ida which led to several significant spills. Although the President Biden administration is making a concerted effort to transition toward renewable energy, the oil and gas industry will remain an important part of Louisiana’s economy for decades to come.