Old Oil Wells Cause Concerns Over Carbon Storage Safety In Louisiana

Old Oil Wells Cause Concerns Over Carbon Storage Safety In Louisiana - Carbon Herald
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Louisiana leads the nation in planned carbon storage wells, with nearly one-third of the country’s 200 new wells proposed in the state, amid rising concerns over potential carbon dioxide (CO2) leaks related to old oil wells, Verite News in New Orleans reported Monday.

Oil and gas companies have long extracted carbon from Louisiana, leaving behind thousands of abandoned wells. Now, efforts are underway to inject carbon back into the ground to mitigate climate change.

However, the proximity of new wells to old ones raises concerns that harmful levels of CO2 and tainted well water may escape from the porous ground.

Abel Russ from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), a watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C., highlights the inevitability of leaks.

“It’s not a question of whether these things are going to leak. It’s a question of how much is acceptable and how much is going to be happening,” he was quoted as saying by Verite News.

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), though untested on a large scale, could minimize risks through careful site selection and well design, according to CCS scientists.

Patrick Courreges from the Louisiana Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) assures that safety is a priority in the state’s permit approval process, recently streamlined to 18 months.

Louisiana, along with Wyoming and North Dakota, has state-level permit authority over CO2 wells, whereas other states rely on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Relevant: Lawsuit Seeks To Shift Carbon Storage Well Approval In Louisiana Back To EPA

The Gulf Coast’s rock formations could store hundreds of billions of tons of CO2, but Louisiana’s 186,000 abandoned wells pose a challenge.

About 4,500 of these are orphaned, lacking responsible operators and thus falling under taxpayer-funded cleanup.

Many of these wells, particularly those abandoned before 1953, were inadequately sealed with materials like wood or scrap metal, making them potential leakage pathways, a recent report commissioned by the EIP showed.

Since identifying and assessing all abandoned wells is impractical, targeted campaigns to assess “hotspots of risk,” or areas where many abandoned wells overlap potential carbon storage areas, may be considered to mitigate the risks, according to the report.

In 2020, a CO2 pipeline rupture in Mississippi highlighted the dangers, causing health issues and evacuations.

A leak from the same ExxonMobil-owned pipeline was recently registered in Louisiana, leading to road closures and an advisory to shelter in place.

Leaky wells could cause serious environmental harm, including groundwater contamination, and thereby negate the climate benefits of CCS, Professor Li Li at Pennsylvania State University warned.

Read more: DOE Study To Assess Shipping Carbon Emissions From Japan For Storage In Alaska

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