A guest article written by Penfield W. Tate III
The science is undeniable when it comes to the impact of particular gasses on the planet and their impact on climate change. Methane, while shorter lived than CO2 has a big impact as a short lived pollutant. We speak in longing terms about the need to preserve this planet for our future and our children. The technology is readily available and affordable to ensure we are doing everything we can to minimize methane emissions from our energy supply chain.
Unplugged, orphan wells are a contributing source of emissions like methane, a potent greenhouse gas, aromatic hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene), various volatile alkanes, and hydrogen sulfides. By ensuring that energy producing wells are properly capped at the end of their useful life we can prevent these emissions from entering
the atmosphere. In the instance where operators go bankrupt or the operations dissolve, wells are left without the proper maintenance required to ensure safety.
At the Orphan Well Prioritization Task Force, we continue to evaluate orphan wells and their impact on climate science and the communities in and around these sites. As the Chief Environmental Justice Officer at Project Canary, balancing the need for energy development with the obligation to protect people and the planet is top of mind.
The National Center for Education Statistics, the federal agency responsible for collecting and analyzing data related to education, updates information on school locations in collaboration with the U.S. Census Bureau. When combined with information about the location of documented unplugged orphan wells, we find that there are nearly 31,800 unplugged orphan wells around the country within one mile of a school.
Not all orphan wells are equally dangerous, and clearly, we should focus on the most serious offenders, but there are other criteria to consider. There are easy and direct ways to address this problem -- plug the wells then measure and verify they are no longer emitting.
We at the Orphan Well Prioritization Task Force are developing a tool to allow policymakers and communities to be mindful of the risks of unplugged orphan wells. The time has come to fix this problem and the federal government has issued funds to support this effort. We can all be a part of this solution.
Penfield W. Tate III is Managing Shareholder - Tate Law, P.C., Chief Environmental Justice Officer - Project Canary, PBC. and volunteers with nonprofit Fellow Environmental Partners on the Orphan Well Task Force.