Jul 20, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Plugging abandoned oil and gas wells could be a jobs boon for the U.S.

Reproduced from Resources for the Future via IOGCC; Note: For estimated undocumented wells, average of low and high estimate was used for states that report a range; Chart: Axios Visuals

There's a lot of jobs potential if the federal government gets serious about plugging what could be as many as 3 million abandoned oil-and-gas wells nationwide, a new report from Resources for the Future and a Columbia University energy think tank concludes.

Why it matters: Abandoned wells can leak methane — a very potent planet-warming gas — and other pollutants. If it tackles 500,000 of those, this could mean up to 120,000 more jobs.

  • The idea comes as oil-and-gas industry workers are reeling from layoffs due to the price and demand collapse.

The big picture: Estimates for the number of abandoned wells nationwide range from hundreds of thousands to 3 million, "depending on the definition of such wells needing attention," the report notes.

  • "A significant federal program to plug orphan wells could create tens of thousands of jobs, potentially as many as 120,000 if 500,000 wells were plugged," it finds.
  • It points out that the oil industry has equipment and labor available for the job, given that the sector shed more than 76,000 jobs (and counting) this year.

By the numbers: They estimate that the costs of plugging the "known inventory" of roughly 57,000 wells could range from $1.4 billion to $2.7 billion, while identifying and plugging 500,000 wells could plausibly cost $12 billion to $24 billion.

What we're watching: Joe Biden's climate and energy plan calls for new investments in cleaning up old wells as well as mining sites.

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