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

Rendering of electric scooters, electric cars, light rail train, and apartments in background.

Arizona’s ‘Car-Free’ Community Takes Shape

Culdesac Tempe has been welcoming residents since last year.

February 14, 2024 - The Cool Down

Aerial view of suburban sprawl with large single-family homes near Dallas, Texas.

The Changing Shape of American Suburbs

Housing costs and availability are pushing more American households, including young families, to suburbs and exurbs — and they’re demanding changes.

February 13, 2024 - Business Insider

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

Google street view of wide grassy median in Beverly Hills, California.

Beverly Hills Installs First ‘Green Street’

A three-block median featuring native plants and bioswales is part of the city’s broader effort to reduce water consumption and pollution.

February 22 - Beverly Press

Habitat for Humanity volunteers in construction helmets buildign a wood-frame house.

Habitat for Humanity and Missoula Land Trust Team up on Affordable Housing

The partnership will ensure the new homes will remain affordable for future buyers.

February 22 - KPAX

Orange California poppies in bloom over gently rolling hills in Southern California's Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve.

Experiencing California's Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve

Located in the western Mojave Desert, this stunning state natural reserve is renowned for its breathtaking displays of California poppies and has even been referred to as California's most beautiful place.

February 22 -

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

The Walkable City

Harvard GSD Executive Education

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.