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AP: Gulf Has 27,000 Abandoned Oil Wells!

From a freshly outraged Associated Press:

AP IMPACT: Gulf awash in 27,000 abandoned wells

By JEFF DONN and MITCH WEISS (AP)

July 7, 2010

More than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells lurk in the hard rock beneath the Gulf of Mexico, an environmental minefield that has been ignored for decades. No one — not industry, not government — is checking to see if they are leaking, an Associated Press investigation shows.

The oldest of these wells were abandoned in the late 1940s, raising the prospect that many deteriorating sealing jobs are already failing.

The AP investigation uncovered particular concern with 3,500 of the neglected wells — those characterized in federal government records as "temporarily abandoned."

Regulations for temporarily abandoned wells require oil companies to present plans to reuse or permanently plug such wells within a year, but the 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 — eveb [sic] though sealing procedures for temporary abandonment are not as stringent as those for permanent closures.

As a forceful reminder of the potential harm, the well beneath BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig was being sealed with cement for temporary abandonment when it blew April 20, leading to one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation’s history. BP alone has abandoned about 600 wells in the Gulf, according to government data.

There’s ample reason for worry about all permanently and temporarily abandoned wells — history shows that at least on land, they often leak.

We no geologists, but we wonder if water pressure might not have something to do with this.

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.

Notice that this is mentioned in passing, but the article never cites a specific well that has 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…

Despite the likelihood of leaks large and small, though, abandoned wells are typically not inspected by industry or government.

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. Once an oil company says it will permanently abandon a well, it has one year to complete the job. MMS mandates that work plans be submitted and a report filed afterward.

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

The fact there are so many wells that have been classified for decades as temporarily abandoned suggests that paperwork can be shuffled at MMS without any real change beneath the water.

With its weak system of enforcement, MMS imposed fines in a relative handful of cases: just $440,000 on seven companies from 2003-2007 for improper plug-and-abandonment work.

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.

Government regulators and industry officials say abandoned offshore wells are presumed to be properly plugged and are expected to last indefinitely without leaking. Only when pressed do these officials acknowledge the possibility of leaks.

"Once a well is plugged with cement, it’s deemed no longer a risk," said Eric Kazanis, an MMS petroleum engineer for the Gulf of Mexico. "It’s not supposed to leak." He said no special financial guarantees are required to assure that repairs can be made if they are needed.

Despite warnings of leaks, government and industry officials have never bothered to assess the extent of the problem, according to an extensive AP review of records and regulations.

That means no one really knows how many abandoned wells are leaking — and how badly

The AP analysis indicates that more than half of the 50,000 wells ever drilled on federal leases beneath the Gulf have now been abandoned. Some 23,500 are permanently sealed. Another 12,500 wells are plugged on one branch while being allowed to remain active in a different branch…

But no industry or government records are kept on oil leaks from abandoned wells

[Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra] Barkoff, the Interior Department spokeswoman, said discussions are under way on possible ways of finding leaks from offshore abandoned wells, including the use of undersea robots.

Without strong federal encouragement, though, few researchers are working on the problem.

The full version of this Associated Press article is 2,273 words long. And yet there is no mention anywhere in it of their research uncovering a single abandoned oil well that is currently leaking.

But that doesn’t stop the AP from getting hysteric, and coming up with yet another problem that to be solved by more government bureaucrats and lawsuits.

And speaking of hysteria, here is the CBS News headline for this AP story:

27,000 Abandoned Gulf Oil Wells May Be Leaking

Again, never mind that the AP did not cite one leaking oil well.

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, July 7th, 2010. Comments are currently closed.

5 Responses to “AP: Gulf Has 27,000 Abandoned Oil Wells!”

  1. canary says:

    Has BP dumped cement cinder blocks on the spill hole or whatever they used in the 50’s & 60’s? This b.s. the liberals are saying about 1″ of pressure having multi-thousands of pressure does not make since if a camera can watch it. Unless it’s a deep sea volcano like U.S. & Indonesia are watching
    in historical research.
    Still, they plan to use the oil they collect for plastics, etc. and of course to quit oil drilling and cap & trade.

    BP just stopped fueling Iran’s planes, to avoid more sanctions
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/epic/bpdot/7873654/BP-stops-refuelling-Iranian-passenger-planes.html

  2. proreason says:

    Makes you wonder when the gubamint is going to step up to its responsibility to prevent volcanoes, doesn’t it.

    We should be raising taxes to 100% to solve that one.

  3. bill says:

    No one not anyone has any evidence of truth in this story.

    That’s weird, it is an AP story after-all.

  4. Chuckk says:

    The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

  5. dnlchisholm says:

    This is the rebuttal to Chris Matthews ridiculous predictions from this video.

    What is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews Thinking? http://mittromneycentral.com/2010/07/07/what-is-msnbcs-chris-matthew-thinking/

    Once you watch this video, you’ll be wondering the same thing. It’s baffling.


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