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From upstate New York to southern California, abandoned oil and gas wells are a big, largely undocumented problem. But thanks to last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, states are finally trying to account for just how big of a cleanup job they have ahead.

A well in a west Texas oil field.
A well in a west Texas oil field. Credit: Jonathan Cutrer / Creative Commons

When oil and gas companies abandon wells without plugging them, they can pose a big risk to human and environmental health. Toxic substances like arsenic, formaldehyde and benzene can pollute the surrounding air — potentially worsening asthma symptoms for those living near wells. And they can also emit methane — a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide — further worsening global warming. 

Last year, states reported they’d tracked 81,000 abandoned wells in need of cleanup. But after the U.S. Interior Department announced it would award $1.15 billion for plugging wells, states got serious about mapping the problem. They’ve now tracked 120,000 orphaned wells, according to a new analysis from the Environmental Defense Fund and McGill University.

And that number is likely to only grow, as some estimates say there could be as many as a million unplugged oil and gas wells across the country.

Read more — and find a map of where documented abandoned wells are lurking — at the Washington Post.


More clean energy news

📑 Change of plans: The White House is negotiating with European leaders after they complained about the Inflation Reduction Act’s domestic clean energy incentives — but it won’t ask Congress to “tweak” the law, as President Biden suggested last week. (E&E News)

🌎 Clean new world: Renewable energy will surpass coal as the world’s largest electricity source by 2025, according to an International Energy Agency report, which says the global energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “has sparked unprecedented momentum” for clean energy. (CNBC)

☀️ Solar tariffs could return: The U.S. Commerce Department proposes resuming tariffs on certain imported, Chinese-made solar components, triggering criticism from industry leaders who say it will endanger planned projects. (E&E News, Canary Media)

💸 Climate disasters’ big price tag: Global weather disasters caused $260 billion in losses this year, with Hurricane Ian bringing in $50 billion to $65 billion in insured damages, a reinsurance research group estimates. (Bloomberg)

🗑️ Landfill gets a new life: In New Jersey, one of North America’s largest capped landfills — and a former Superfund site — becomes a solar farm capable of powering more than 4,000 homes. (NJ Spotlight)

✈️ Airports’ electrification challenge: As airlines and airports look to electrify ground operations and eventually their planes, finding enough space and power to plug in poses a challenge. (Axios)

🌊 Offshore wind deployment lags: The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has so far only approved two of the 16 offshore wind farms President Biden wants implemented during his first term — a goal that has become more urgent since Republicans took over the House. (E&E News)

🥇 Companies lead on solar: U.S. corporations have installed nearly 19 GW of solar through the first nine months of 2022, doubling total capacity since 2019. Meta led the way, followed by Amazon, Apple, Walmart and Microsoft. (Utility Dive)


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Kathryn Krawczyk

Kathryn brings her extensive editorial background to the Energy News Network team, where she oversees the early-morning production of ENN’s five email digest newsletters as well as distribution of ENN’s original journalism with other media outlets. From documenting chronic illness’ effect on college students to following the inner workings of Congress, Kathryn has built a broad experience in her more than five years working at major publications including The Week Magazine. Kathryn holds a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism and information management and technology from Syracuse University.