Media Briefings

Abandoned oil and gas wells

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Researchers estimate that there are between 2-3 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States, and more than 117,000 of those, across 27 states, are “orphaned”—that is, uncapped, unproductive, and with no responsible party identified to manage leakage or pollution risks. SciLine’s media briefing covered where these wells are, both onshore and off, and why it is so hard to find them; the types of greenhouse gas and other emissions they leak into the atmosphere; and the environmental and economic costs and benefits of finding and capping them. Three experts made presentations and then took questions on the record.

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A full transcript will be posted shortly.

Dr. Mary Kang

McGill University

Dr. Mary Kang is an assistant professor in thedepartment of civil engineering at McGill University. Her research areas are focused on groundwater hydrology and environmental impacts of subsurface-based energy development. Application areas of her work include groundwater impacts and greenhouse gas emissions related to oil and gas development and geologic storage of carbon dioxide. Recently, she has published on environmental risks and opportunities of orphaned oil and gas wells in the United States.

Declared interests:


Dr. Amy Townsend-Small

University of Cincinnati

Dr. Amy Townsend-Small is a professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability at University of Cincinnati. She and her students and colleagues have published dozens of papers on the topics of atmospheric methane emissions from the oil and gas supply chain and climate change feedbacks, as well as other aspects of the carbon, nitrogen, and water cycles.  She also works on community engaged research toward environmental justice and greenhouse gas emissions reductions together with her students. A service driven researcher, Amy serves as a senior climate advisor for the U.S. Department of State and a volunteer member of the executive board of Fellow Environmental Partners, soon to be renamed as The Orphan Well Collaborative.

Declared interests:


Dr. Greg Upton Jr.

Louisiana State University

Dr. Greg Upton Jr. is an associate research professor and the at the interim executive director of the Center for Energy Studies, both at Louisiana State University. His research interests are related to the analysis of economic, environmental and public policy issues in the energy industry. Dr. Upton has addressed a number of topical energy, including Louisiana mineral taxes, solar tax credits, and net metering policies, the impact of the oil price collapse on Louisiana’s budgetary challenges, and implications of the crude oil export ban’s lifting on the Louisiana economy. He has also worked on evaluating effects of a program for plugging an abandoned offshore oil and gas wells, as well as characterizing financial liabilities and environmental implications of unplugged wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

Declared interests:

The work I’m presenting in the SciLine media briefing was funded by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

Dr. Mary Kang slides


Dr. Amy Townsend-Small slides


Dr. Greg Upton Jr. presentation with references