US Orders Idle Wells Plugged In Gulf Of Mexico

The United States on Wednesday ordered oil and gas firms to permanently plug nearly 3,500 unused wells and dismantle hundreds of idle platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, in a bid to shore up industry safety after the disastrous BP spill.

“We are notifying offshore operators of their legal responsibility to decommission and dismantle their facilities when production is completed,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in a statement.

“We have placed the industry on notice that they will be held to the highest standards of planning and operations in developing leases,” he added in the joint announcement with Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) which regulates offshore drilling.

The new mandates are being imposed on an industry shaken by this year’s huge oil spill “as part of our sustained effort to improve the safety of energy production on the outer continental shelf (OCS) and strengthen environmental protections,” Salazar said.

According to the new regulations, put forward in a notice to lessees which goes into effect October 15, companies will be required to plug wells that have been inactive for five years, and that production platforms and pipelines must be decommissioned if they are not being actively used.

Thousands of idle or abandoned wells lie on the ocean floor, some of them decades old.

Bromwich, President Barack Obama’s recent pick to head BOEMRE, warned that as infrastructure ages, the risk of damage increases, particularly during storm season.

Timely dismantling of what is known in the industry as “idle iron” would “substantially reduce such hazards,” Bromwich said.

The notice to lessees states that the idle infrastructure “poses a potential threat to the OCS environment and is a financial liability to you and possibly the federal government if subsequently destroyed or damaged in a future event such as a hurricane.”

The wells affected are nearly 3,500 non-producing wells currently topped with a subsurface safety valve instead of a more permanent seal, while some 650 platforms could be ordered dismantled if no longer being used for exploration or production.

The Gulf of Mexico is a vital US energy producer. About 25 percent of American domestic oil and gas supply comes from the Gulf’s OCS, according to a Louisiana State University study published in 2007 by the US Department of the Interior.

More than 40,000 wells have been drilled in the Gulf’s outer continental shelf since the beginning of offshore production in 1947, according to the study.

It said that as of 2007 nearly 6,500 producing wells and 33,000 miles (53,000 kilometers) of pipeline were in use.

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