Environmental regulations in some cases took decades to enact, allowing oil producers to essentially go unchecked as they drilled and bled oil reserves in states like Pennsylvania dry. Many of these forgotten, derelict wells were hastily filled in, or in some cases, not at all. Climate Central reports on a study of 19 old oil wells by Mary Kang of Princeton University, who found these wells emitting various amounts of methane gas…and there are hundreds of thousands of such oil wells all over the Keystone State. There are so many, in fact, that the emissions from these derelict wells could be as much as 13% of Pennsylvania’s total methane output.
Because there are no official records of all the oil wells in the state though, the number of derelict wells is estimated to be between 207,000 and 970,000 abandoned oil wells….in just one state. Now imagine that on a national, or international scale, and things suddenly get scary.
Though a shorter-lived greenhouse gas, methane is 86 times more potent radiative force than carbon emissions over a 20 year span. In many cases the gas is “flared off” during oil drilling and burned immediately, but many oil and gas companies are now pushing methane, or “natural gas” as a greener alternative to gasoline. When you look at the big picture tough, natural gas is just more of the status quo from the same people who poked a million holes in Pennsylvania, and couldn’t even be bothered to clean up after themselves. It isn’t just old oil wells either; modern methods of fracking emit tons of methane as well, much worse than previously thought.
There are few regulations regarding gas emissions, and no monitoring is done of these old wells over time, meaning they’re essentially left to sit and pollute, unregulated, from now until eternity…or someone caps them off properly. Worse yet, this isn’t a problem relegated to just Pennsylvania. Many states in America have similarly lax regulations and abandoned, unmonitored wells. Oil’s legacy of environmental damage seems to have no end.