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AP: Gulf awash in 27,000 abandoned gas, oil wells


DeanCollins

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http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/jul/07/abandoned-oil-wells-gulf-mexico

The Gulf of Mexico is packed with abandoned oil wells from a host of companies including BP, according to an investigation by Associated Press, which describes the area as "an environmental minefield that has been ignored for decades".

While the explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig has thrown the spotlight sharply on BP's activities in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental safety in the area has been neglected for decades.

There are more than 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico, according to AP, of which 600 belonged to BP.

The oldest of these abandoned wells dates back to the late 1940s and the investigation highlights concerns about the way in which some of them have been plugged, especially the 3,500 neglected wells that are catalogued by the government as "temporarily abandoned". The rules for shutting off temporarily closed wells are not as strict as for completely abandoned wells.

Regulations for temporarily abandoned wells require oil companies to present plans to reuse or permanently plug such wells within a year, but AP found that the rule is routinely circumvented, and that more than 1,000 wells have lingered in that unfinished condition for more than a decade. About three-quarters of temporarily abandoned wells have been left in that status for more than a year, and many since the 1950s and 1960s.

AP quotes state officials as estimating that tens of thousands are badly sealed, either because they predate strict regulation or because the operating companies violated rules. Texas alone has plugged more than 21,000 abandoned wells to control pollution, according to the state comptroller's office. In state-controlled waters off the coast of California, many abandoned wells have had to be resealed. But in deeper federal waters, AP points out, there is very little investigation into the state of abandoned wells.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (formerly the US Minerals Management Service), which is charged with keeping an eye on offshore drilling, has little power to deal with abandoned wells. It merely requests paperwork to prove that a well has been capped and, unlike regulators in states such as California, it does not typically inspect the job.

More than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells remain in the Gulf of Mexico and no one's checking to see if they are leaking, reports an investigation by the Associated Press.

The AP, calling the Gulf an "environmental minefield," says the oldest of these wells were abandoned in the late 1940s, raising questions about whether their seals remain intact. It says 3,500 wells are listed as "temporarily abandoned," without seals, with 1,000 of them remaining that way for more than a decade.

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2010/07/ap-gulf-awash-in-27000-abandoned-gas-oil-well/1

The Macondo well beneath BP's Deepwater Horizon rig was being sealed with cement for temporary abandonment when it blew April 20, according to the AP, which says government data indicate BP alone has abandoned about 600 wells in the Gulf. The story adds:

There's ample reason for worry about all permanently and temporarily abandoned wells – history shows that at least on land, they often leak. Wells are sealed underwater much as they are on land. And wells on land and in water face similar risk of failure. Plus, records reviewed by the AP show that some offshore wells have failed.

Experts say such wells can repressurize, much like a dormant volcano can awaken. And years of exposure to sea water and underground pressure can cause cementing and piping to corrode and weaken....

Oil company representatives insist that the seal on a correctly plugged offshore well will last virtually forever....

Officials at the U.S. Interior Department, which oversees the agency that regulates federal leases in the Gulf and elsewhere, did not answer repeated questions regarding why there are no inspections of abandoned wells.

State officials estimate that tens of thousands are badly sealed, either because they predate strict regulation or because the operating companies violated rules. Texas alone has plugged more than 21,000 abandoned wells to control pollution, according to the state comptroller's office.

Offshore, but in state waters, California has resealed scores of its abandoned wells since the 1980s.

In deeper federal waters, though – despite the similarities in how such wells are constructed and how sealing procedures can fail – the official policy is out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

The U.S. Minerals Management Service – the regulatory agency recently renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement – relies on rules that have few real teeth....

Unlike California regulators, MMS doesn't typically inspect the job, instead relying on the paperwork....

Companies permanently abandon wells when they are no longer useful. Afterward, no one looks methodically for leaks, which can't easily be detected from the surface anyway. And no one in government or industry goes underwater to inspect, either....

The AP documented an extensive history of warnings about environmental dangers related to abandoned wells:

_ The General Accountability Office, which investigates for Congress, warned as early as 1994 that leaks from offshore abandoned wells could cause an "environmental disaster," killing fish, shellfish, mammals and plants. In a lengthy report, GAO pressed for inspections of abandonment jobs, but nothing came of the recommendation.

_ A 2006 Environmental Protection Agency report took notice of the overall issue regarding wells on land: "Historically, well abandonment and plugging have generally not been properly planned, designed and executed." State officials say many leaks come from wells abandoned in recent decades, when rules supposedly dictated plugging procedures. And repairs are so routine that terms have been coined to describe the work: "replugging" or the "re-abandonment."

_ A GAO report in 1989 provided a foreboding prognosis about the health of the country's inland oil and gas wells. The watchdog agency quoted EPA data estimating that up to 17 percent of the nation's wells on land had been improperly plugged. If that percentage applies to offshore wells, there could be 4,600 badly plugged wells in the Gulf of Mexico alone.

More unregulated disaster waiting to happen. "Drill baby drill"

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More unregulated disaster waiting to happen. "Drill baby drill"

What would you suggest?

Law already clearly establishes liability and methods to abandon wells,so your issue is with the Feds?

Yet another issue they aren't enforcing?:evilg:

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Twa, I expected you to be to first to reply and defend the oil companies. Your stock portfolio must be heavily packed with oil companies. The answer is, not enough laws exist and yes the feds need to increase regulation of this unscrupulous in industry which, when no one is looking, has no concern for the environment and only for unlimited profits.

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Twa, I expected you to be to first to reply and defend the oil companies. Your stock portfolio must be heavily packed with oil companies. The answer is, not enough laws exist and yes the feds need to increase regulation of this unscrupulous in industry which, when no one is looking, has no concern for the environment and only for unlimited profits.

Where did I defend the oil companies in that post?

There are plenty of laws and regs on the books,and enforcing them is not the oil companies responsibility...simply complying is.

perhaps the feds should look to the Texas model of enforcement?(as was mentioned in the article,we do more than talk)

btw no oil stock,no oil/gas leases,no employment related to oil companies

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Wow hands off to old school American industry for a 70 year oil oil rig to be standing and not leaking.

They must not have cut corners, as BP is alleged to have done when it came to safety standards.

Allow drilling in remote places like Alaska and other places on land with out the punitive taxes and mandates.

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Twa, I expected you to be to first to reply and defend the oil companies. Your stock portfolio must be heavily packed with oil companies. The answer is, not enough laws exist and yes the feds need to increase regulation of this unscrupulous in industry which, when no one is looking, has no concern for the environment and only for unlimited profits.

When did Big Oil show no concern for the environment in the gulf prior to this?

So you were this concerned prior to the leak, but is okay when the drilling in the Gulf will be done by China Russia, Vietnam etc?

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Wow hands off to old school American industry for a 70 year oil oil rig to be standing and not leaking.

The problem is we don't know they're not leaking. Nobody ever inspects them. They do know that ones on land of the same age do leak, so in all likelihood many of these may be leaking as well.

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