"Failed Oil Well Plugs Are Silent Polluters That No One Watches"

"Sarah Stogner plucked a piece of cement off a rusted steel pipe jutting from the ground on a West Texas ranch. The chunk, part of the plug for a long-dormant oil well, crumbled in her hand.

Stogner manages the Antina Ranch, which spans an old oil field southwest of Midland. Today, it’s dotted with abandoned wells, many of which were plugged long ago to prevent the wells from polluting the air and water. Stogner and ranch owner Ashley Watt have found more than 100 failed plugs and are battling Chevron in court over their cleanup.

“You can see the gas bubbles coming up,” Stogner, an oil and gas attorney, said as she watched water puddle atop a plugged but leaking well in December.

Some plugs fail because the cement used to seal them has deteriorated, or the metal well casing has corroded. Petroleum geologists say wastewater disposal from the fracking boom—particularly in the oil-rich Permian basin—could also be pressurizing aquifers beneath the old wells, forcing plugs to blow.

Nobody knows for sure, or how big the problem could be, because few people are watching."

Bobby Magill and Drew Hutchinson report for Bloomberg Environment March 13, 2024.

Source: Bloomberg Environment, 03/15/2024