US agency orders plugging of idle oil, gas wells in gulf
KENNER, La. — The Obama administration moved to head off another catastrophic leak like the
The move came as the government’s point man for the oil spill said BP’s blown-out well should be pronounced dead by Sunday.
In Washington, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an order requiring oil and gas companies to plug nearly 3,500 nonproducing wells and dismantle about 650 production platforms that are longer being used.
The threat posed by the wells was detailed this summer in an Associated Press investigation. The gulf has more than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells and more than 1,200 idle rigs and platforms, and the AP found that many of the wells have been ignored for decades.
Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said the Obama administration crackdown was under consideration long before the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
“As infrastructure continues to age, the risk of damage increases. That risk increases substantially during storm season,’’ Bromwich said.
Under the order, operators must plug wells that been inactive for the past five years. Platforms and pipelines that are not being used for production or exploration must be decommissioned, even if the leases are still active.
Federal regulations require idle structures to be decommissioned — a process that involves plugging wells and dismantling and removing equipment — within one year of the lease’s expiration date.
Oil and gas producers have long argued that certain idle platforms, wells, and pipelines are still valuable, because they might one day be used to support other wells nearby.
Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, an offshore drilling group, welcomed the new order, which he said had been in the works for at least two years.
Luthi is a former head of the Minerals Management Service, the agency that oversaw offshore drilling before it was overhauled and renamed as a result of the BP disaster.
He said the Obama administration “must also assist in clearing the path so such operations can be done quickly, smoothly, and in an environmentally responsible manner.’’
Meanwhile, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the government official overseeing the crisis, said the relief well BP has been drilling all summer long should intersect the ruptured well within 24 hours. He said mud and cement will then be pumped in, sealing the hole once and for all by Sunday.