LAKE ARTHUR, La. (BRPROUD) — Louisiana has thousands of orphaned wells, which are abandoned oil wells that are a risk to the environment and the people who live near them. With federal funding the state is ahead of schedule will its goal to cap them, but there is still a long road to go.
On Thursday, Gov. John Bel Edwards took a tour of one of the active construction sites where they’re working to plug one of these orphaned wells near Lake Arthur. So far, the state has plugged up nearly 600 of them this year. There are still 4,600 to be taken care of.
“Wells have fugitive methane emissions. We do know that so long as they’re not properly plugged, they’re at risk for hydrocarbon emissions as well,” Edwards said. “And in fact, they have flow lines that we know are still in place that are going to have to be captured because they have hydrocarbons left in those.”
The number of abandoned wells has increased over the years as the fossil fuel industry struggled financially. The wells are left when a company goes out of business or can’t be forced by the state to plug them up.
“This is a long standing issue in Louisiana that goes back many years. It is unfortunate, but we didn’t put proper safeguards up in front of all of this,” Edwards said.
Annually, the state would plug around 160 a year with state funding adding up to about $10-12 million in each budget. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act brought $25 million to the state for one year to cap the wells that could be leaking methane or chemicals into the environment. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services gave the state an additional $12 million to plug wells on federal land, such as wells on the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge.
“There are electrical concerns to some of these old wells and also like navigation and coming along and not being able to see where their pipes are, where they’re dangerous to,” USFWS Director Martha Williams said. “I think it’s multifold that it’s really helpful to clean up.”
Williams also said there are now laws in place regarding bonding and responsibility for future wells to prevent this from happening again.
The Office of Conservation continues to identify more wells even as the state races to fix the issue. The vast majority of these wells are in north Louisiana and the ones in the south are harder to get to and cost more to fix.
Louisiana is hoping for another round of federal funding to continue to work into future years.