Friday Eye Candy: Photo Series Captures Abandoned Oil Wells

A photographer documents the 'orphan wells' strewn across northwest Louisiana in a stark reminder of our deep entanglement with fossil fuels.

July 9, 2021, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Sign at Oil City, Louisiana

Steve Snodgrass / Oil City, Louisiana

In a "series of photographs shot in the abandoned oil fields of Caddo Parish in northwest Louisiana," Meghan L.E. Kirkwood captures "the traces of an international economic and political system in which each one of us is stuck, a worldview in which profit comes to those who walk away," writes Daegan Miller in Places Journal.

When an oil well is no longer profitable, "the owners have a decision to make. They can plug the well, a job that can cost $30,000. Or, since Louisiana doesn’t require well operators to clean up their mess, they can abandon it to the public’s care. As of March 31, 2021, the state was home to 4,525 orphaned wells." But far from being drained dry, these wells "remain ruinously productive, belching methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more effective than carbon dioxide at warming the planet, and leaking oil and brine into the aquifer, there to be taken up by all of us, human and non-human, who drink and bathe or make a home in or on the water."

Miller writes that "[Kirkwood's] photographs’ luminosity is an invitation to remember and, where memory fails, to imagine how thoroughly bound each of us is to oil, how thoroughly connected through it." They help us remember "that these are our landscapes, our orphans, our responsibilities."

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