This summer, as massive wildfires raged across the west, destroying towns and cities and forcing hundreds of thousands of Americans to evacuate their homes, the Trump Administration finalized its latest environmental rollback, repealing regulations designed to reduce methane pollution from oil-and-gas wells. The consequences of this rollback will be dire. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, more than 80 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is emitted. Oil-and-gas operations release vast quantities of this super-pollutant, along with smog-forming fumes and cancer-causing toxics also present in raw natural gas.
Across the country and the world, there are an estimated 29 million abandoned oil and gas wells leaking methane and other contaminants into ground water and the atmosphere. Despite this, we continue to poke more holes in the Earth, making more wounds that never heal.
An abandoned well is an open straw from the surface down to fossil fuel-bearing rock, often passing through freshwater aquifers. The only thing stopping ground water contamination is a bit of steel and concrete that was put there when the well was completed, often decades ago. It is hot and salty at the bottom of a well. Perfect conditions for corrosion of steel and degradation of concrete. Once that happens, and it always will, channels of contamination open to the freshwater aquifers that we use for drinking and crop irrigation.