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Cleaning up abandoned oil and gas wells would yield billions in benefits

New research is revealing time and time again that often the most sustainable solution is also the most economically viable. The latest example of this phenomenon is found in abandoned US oil and gas fields. New research from Hendrix College has found that cleaning up abandoned oil and gas wells would not only prevent environmental degradation but also generate billions of dollars in benefits for those who live near these wells. 

Abandoned oil and gas wells cover more than 2 million acres across the US, an area equivalent to the state of Delaware. When wells dry up or companies no longer find it profitable to search for oil and gas in a particular area, these wells are often just abandoned, leading to methane leaks and groundwater contamination. Cleaning up these sites and plugging wells would avoid these consequences, but it would also offer enormous agricultural and carbon sequestration benefits to the tune of $21 billion. For comparison, the actual total clean-up efforts would only cost $7 billion. 

To come to their clean-up conclusion, the researchers first documented all the abandoned wells. Next, they used satellite imagery and surveying to determine the type of land these wells were on and the ecological benefits of restoration. Using random sampling, the team calculated the agricultural product value of returning this space to farmland as well as the carbon sequestration benefits. 

In addition to environmental and direct financial benefits, the restoration of these lands also offers job opportunities for those who previously worked in the oil and gas industries. The transition to cleaner energy sources means also cleaning up the mess left behind by fossil fuel extraction. The proximity of the abandoned wells to the workers that once tended them makes it a perfect opportunity for job creation for these communities. This transition plan for oil and gas fields is a win-win for the environment and the communities that live near the fields. 

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