Estimate to Plug Abandoned Wells in Gulf of Mexico: $30B

Infrastructure law has partial funding, but companies could be on the hook
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2023 4:20 PM CDT
Study Puts Cost of Capping Old Wells in Gulf at $30B
The Perdido oil platform, about 200 miles south of Galveston, Texas, in the Gulf of Mexico, in 2011.   (AP Photo/Jon Fahey, File)

More than 14,000 old, disconnected wells are still sitting in the Gulf of Mexico, a legacy of 85 years of oil and gas drilling. They're not just an eyesore: The wells, which now outnumber working wells, could leak oil and other pollutants into the water that might then reach the shore of the northern Gulf Coast, the New York Times reports. A new study has estimated the cost of solving the problem by capping the wells: more than $30 billion. Another issue is who would pay for it.

The study, published in the journal Nature Energy, found that almost 90% of those wells that are in federal waters have been owned by major oil companies such as BP, Shell, and Exxon. US law holds those companies responsible for cleanup costs even if they no longer own the wells, researchers wrote. State laws, too, require the companies to securely plug wells not in use. Still, the tab can fall to taxpayers. The 2021 infrastructure law includes $4.7 billion for plugging the wells—a drop in the bucket. "For federal waters, these companies with deep pockets would be on the hook," said a co-author of the study. "There’s someone to go after." The companies mentioned in the study did not respond to Times requests for comment. (More Gulf of Mexico stories.)

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