President Joe Biden infrastructure plan proposes to spend US $ 16 billion to plug old oil and gas wells and clean up abandoned mines. But there is no authoritative measure how many of these sites exist across the country.

In a recent study, my colleagues and I sought to report on every oil and gas well site in the lower 48 states that was eligible for restoration – which means that the well was no longer producing oil or gas and that no other active well was using this site. We found more than 430,000 old wells, with associated infrastructure such as access roads, storage areas and fluid reservoirs. They covered over 2 million acres – an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

These sites are scattered across the country, concentrated mainly in forests, grasslands and cultivated land. They could be put to use. We estimated the value of the crops that could be produced if that land were restored to over $ 14 billion over the next 50 years.

We calculated that restoring these lands could remove millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere as vegetation grows back, providing approximately $ 7 billion in benefits through reduced greenhouse gas emissions. It would also provide habitat for wildlife and could produce timber for harvest. And because healthy ecosystems filter air and the water, returning these lands to their natural state could reduce air pollution and improve the quality of drinking water.

In recent years, energy production has become the biggest consumer of new land in the United States, overtaking urban and residential development. The oil and gas industry has a particularly large footprint, occupying millions of acres, with major environmental impacts. Energy development reduces biodiversity, increases carbon emissions, disrupts natural ecological processes and decreases ecosystem services – the many benefits that natural landscapes provide to humanity.

While active wells produce oil and gas, they generate clear economic benefits, as well as direct and indirect benefits. fresh. Eventually, however, all the wells dry up. After that, their economic value is gone and only the costs remain.

Most states and the federal government require energy developers to plug old wells and reclaim the earth, and to post bonds to help make sure they do. Often, however, companies either go bankrupt and abandon sites or assert that unused wells still produce and maintain their leases indefinitely. In addition, the deposit is almost never enough cover all the costs of plugging the wells and restoring the land.

Pennsylvania officials have identified thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells in the state (marked in blue) with no identifiable responsible party able to plug them.Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Abandoned wells can sit idle for many years. A lot methane leak, a powerful greenhouse gas, or other contaminants, damage the environment landscapes and threatening the water supply.

The restoration of these sites begins with the plugging of the well to eliminate the risk of contamination. Then the companies remove all the infrastructure, such as platforms and roads. They replace topsoil, plant native plants – which may require additional care to become established over several years – and restore the site’s natural drainage patterns.

Thousands of other active oil and gas wells will stop producing in the years to come. Energy companies located on 150,000 wells on 500,000 acres of land during the initial “fracking” oil and gas boom from 2004 to 2015. These and older wells cover millions of additional acres of land that could one day become rural wasteland scattered across the American landscape.

How far would $ 16 billion go to clean up idle oil and gas sites? We estimated that the land around all of the currently unproductive wells in the lower 48 states could be restored for around $ 7 billion, with additional costs for plugging the wells.

We only had a few publicly available examples of real catering expenses to develop our estimate, and the costs probably vary considerably across different types of ecosystems. But we did a detailed assessment and found that in each scenario we looked at, the economic benefits of restored land would outweigh the costs.

In my opinion, this investment would produce returns that include agricultural production, better human health, cleaner air and water, and a more beautiful and greener landscape.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here:

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