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Ky.’s plugged more than 600 abandoned oil and gas wells

Before and after pictures of an orphan well cleanup in Union County, Kentucky.
Kentucky's Energy and Environment Cabinet
Before and after pictures of an orphan well cleanup in Union County, Kentucky.

Kentucky used $25 million in federal funds to clean up more than 600 abandoned oil and gas wells around the state over the last year.

The abandoned oil and gas wells are littering the state in neighborhoods, on farms and near schools. They can leak harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases, which contribute to a warming climate.

“You often see them around homes, croplands, local communities; they are all around us,” said Dennis Hatfield, director of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Division of Oil and Gas.

Hatfield briefed state lawmakers last week at the interim joint committee on Natural Resources and Energy. He said workers have plugged 627 wells in 27 counties over the last year.

A 2021 study from the Environmental Defense Fund found Kentucky has more than 14,000 of them, but Hatfield told lawmakers the figure was closer to 15,000, and they keep finding new ones.

As an example, Hatfield shared a photo of a well found beside Rockcastle County High School that isn’t on the state’s map.

“It’s yet to be plugged,” he said. “We still find these orphan wells every week.”

Many of the state’s wells are most densely concentrated in the western, southern and eastern parts of the state. Some date back to before the Civil War.

The first round of funding came from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, though the state’s eligible for another nearly $79 million to continue the work with money offered by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Hatfield said most of the jobs were completed using local contractors at an average cost of about $33,000 per well.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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