Report: California’s Orphan Wells Still Pose Health Risks

Tens of thousands of idle oil wells litter the state. Taxpayers are often on the hook for cleanup.

1 minute read

December 6, 2023, 11:06 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


View of green oil wells in a residential neighborhood in California.

Oil wells in a residential California neighborhood. | Sergey Novikov / Adobe Stock

A new report from the Sierra Club sheds light on the hazards that defunct oil wells in Los Angeles pose to public health and the environment. According to an LAist article by Erin Stone, “L.A. County has more idle (and active) wells than any other urban area in the state, putting the health of thousands of Angelenos — largely low-income communities of color — at risk from chemicals that may leak from idle wells.”

As Stone explains,  “The report used data from CalGEM — the state agency that regulates oil drilling operations — to identify operators of tens of thousands of idle wells across the state and found it could cost $10 billion to clean up all the idle wells across California.” Three companies—Chevron, Aera Energy and California Resources Corporation—two-thirds of the state’s idle wells, the report notes.

While state and federal laws technically require oil operators to plan for plugging idle wells, many are left abandoned, placing the responsibility—and cost—for remediation on the state and taxpayers. “There’s been some progress in advancing more oversight of idle wells in recent years — state rules that went into effect in 2019 require oil operators to regularly monitor their idle wells for leaks.” The report recommends stricter policies, including putting a time limit of up to a year for leaving idle wells unplugged.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023 in LAist

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