The number of orphan wells in oil states is at least one-third higher than official estimates, according to a new report from EDF and McGill University. Researchers produced a map showing the 81,000 ‘documented’ wells across 28 states. So-called because they have been abandoned by unknown or insolvent operators, orphaned wells can leach toxins into ground water and release heat-trapping methane — as much as 71,000 metric tons annually from Central Appalachian wells alone — and other pollutants into the air. The problem, however, is likely far worse. EPA estimates there are up to 3 million abandoned or orphaned wells in the U.S. Slashing methane pollution is one of the most effective and feasible ways to slow global heating in the near-term because of its relatively short lifespan in the atmosphere, and satellites are helping in the effort.
Hundreds of miles above the earth, satellites can detect leaks of the invisible odorless gas — like in June when the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite detected an underground pipeline leak near Moscow dumping 395 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere every hour. Not only do the satellites enable better data collection, but they can also enable more rapid repairs, and efforts to hold polluters accountable. (Orphan wells: E&E $; Satellites: Washington Post $, Wall Street Journal $)