Deteriorating Oil and Gas Wells Threaten Drinking Water Across the Country


In the last 150 years, prospectors and energy companies have drilled as many as 12 million holes across the United States in search of oil and gas. Many of those holes were plugged after they dried up. But hundreds of thousands were simply abandoned and forgotten, often leaving no records of their existence.

Government reports have warned for decades that abandoned wells can provide pathways for oil, gas or brine-laden water to contaminate groundwater supplies or to travel up to the surface. Abandoned wells have polluted the drinking water source for Fort Knox, Ky., and leaked oil into water wells in Ohio and Michigan. Similar problems have occurred in Texas, New York, Colorado and other states where drilling has occurred.

Last year, oil and gas operators drilled almost 45,000 new wells across the United States, and that number is expected to hold steady or increase as the nation tries to wean itself from foreign oil. If even a small fraction of those wells is eventually abandoned, states will be left with the bill, just as they were when the last boom ended in the mid-1980s.

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