Plugging and capping abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells in Central Appalachia could generate thousands of jobs for the workers and region who stand to lose the most from the industry’s inexorable decline. According to a new report from the Ohio River Valley Institute, just four states (Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky) account for at least 538,000 unplugged abandoned oil and gas wells, though that number is almost certainly low. The first oil well in the U.S. was drilled in Pennsylvania before the Civil War and the timeline of the region’s oil and gas production contributes to its disproportionate number of orphaned wells.
Among other toxic pollution released from orphaned wells, Central Appalachian wells dumped 71,000 metric tons of methane — an extremely potent heat trapping gas — into the atmosphere every year. The report comes as the Biden administration works to allay worries in a region still tied to the fossil fuel industry. President Biden’s infrastructure plan includes $16 billion for plugging and remediating orphaned oil and gas wells and abandoned mines. (Orphaned Wells: Earther, Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Allegheny Front; Transition: Politico)