Offshore oil wells have attracted their share of attention over the past few months. But while all that attention is focused at the one that has already blown and leaked, there are scores of forgotten wells in the Gulf that may be ticking time bombs.
Right now, there are over 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells — just like the one underneath BP's fated Deepwater Horizon rig — that are pockmarking the Gulf of Mexico.
An Associated Press investigation has verified that nobody is even trying to determine whether the wells are secured and safe. They're completely unregulated and lying out there alone: sunken castaways.
So, despite warnings from agencies like the EPA and the General Accountability Office, no one has actually checked to see if any of the thousands of wells are currently leaking.
More troubling still are the more than 3,500 “temporarily abandoned” wells. When a company temporarily abandons one of these wells, they don't have to comply with the stricter safety standards of a permanent abandonment, leaving them more vulnerable.
Considering that so many of these abandoned wells were sealed as far back as the late 1940s, there are several issues that make these deep-water wells all the more fragile.
One obvious concern is that safety standards back then weren't exactly up to snuff.
Another is that after decades of abuse from ocean tides and deep water pressure, the concrete plugs and metal pipes wear down and the risk of leaking and cracking become greater.
What's more, the wells can become re-pressurized and send the plug blasting upwards like a champagne cork.
These deep-water wells are federal business and less likely to be regulated. But if we are to simply look at the performance of some of the abandoned wells closer to shore, the picture becomes all the more startling.
In an attempt to curb pollution, state officials in both Texas and California have taken extra action to reseal thousands of the wells.
Texas' state comptroller told the AP that his state has resealed up to 21,000 of these abandoned wells.
If the wells closer to shore need that kind of attention to stave off leakage and pollution, it stands to reason that the neglected deep-water wells are just as at risk, if not more so.
Let's hope that with all the light currently shining in the dark corners of the oil industry, potential disasters like the ones lurking under these abandoned wells will get the attention they deserve.
Our oceans simply cannot afford another environmental assault like that of the Deepwater Horizon...