Abandoned oil and gas wells emit carcinogens and other harmful pollutants, groundbreaking study shows
It's not just methane: Journalist Liza Gross writes for InsideClimate News about how a new study documenting the release of cancer-causing benzene and other toxic gases from sites in Pennsylvania renews concerns about millions of other abandoned wells across the U.S.
In a nutshell:
Until now, no independent researchers had systematically measured toxic air contaminants from any of the more than 3 million abandoned oil and gas wells across the nation, writes Gross. In the study, scientists measured emissions and volatile organic compounds from abandoned Marcellus Shale wells. Besides benzene, many wells were emitting hazardous substances linked to nervous system damage, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and premature death.
“If what is found in this study is generalized to all of our abandoned wells, we definitely don’t want people living near them," said Joan Casey, an environmental epidemiologist with the University of Washington’s School of Public Health who was not involved in the study. Most previous health studies have focused on communities in proximity to active oil and gas wells, said Casey, leaving huge gaps in knowledge of how abandoned wells impact public health.
Many homes and buildings in oil and gas-producing states like Pennsylvania, Texas and California are built over abandoned wells -- often without the knowledge of owners or builders. The scale of the problem prompted the Biden administration last year to establish a $4.7 billion program to start cleaning up abandoned wells nationwide. But that's likely a drop in the bucket, leaving states to take other actions - including setbacks and raising remediation funds - to mitigate the damage.
Read the full InsideClimate News story here.
For more on the human toll of living in proximity to gas wells, check out EHN's 2021 award-winning series Fractured, which follows several western Pennsylvania families struggling to get answers about the health impacts of fracking. EHN''s coverage of the oil, gas and petrochemical industries is ongoing; you can find more original journalism from our newsroom here.