West Texas faces a surge in abandoned well blow-outs

An abandoned well explosion in West Texas exposes the broader issue of orphan wells and environmental oversight.

Martha Pskowski reports for Inside Climate News in partnership with Carlos Nogueras of the Texas Tribune.


In short:

  • An old well's eruption on Bill Wight's ranch has brought to light the numerous undocumented and orphaned wells in Texas.
  • The Railroad Commission of Texas, responsible for oil and gas industry regulation, is under scrutiny for its response to environmental cleanup.
  • Texas received significant federal funds to address orphan well problems, but the process is hindered by issues of responsibility and documentation.

Key quote:

"Nobody really knows what you’re supposed to do about something like this."

— Bill Wight, rancher

Why this matters:

These relics of the oil and gas industry, numbering in the tens of thousands, can seep toxic chemicals, methane, and other hazardous pollutants into the environment, particularly affecting groundwater quality. The issue is compounded by the sheer volume of orphan wells and the financial and logistical challenges associated with plugging them.

Related: What happens if the largest owner of oil and gas wells in the US goes bankrupt?

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