New report shows 1.5 times as many abandoned wells leaking gas equivalent to 2 to 5 million cars worth of greenhouse gases.

Abandoned oil and gas wells are leaking massive amounts of deadly, climate altering methane gas into the atmosphere at  rate far higher than suspected, according to a new report from the Environmental Defense Fund and Montreal’s McGill University. The report found at least 81,283 documented orphan wells across the country that were drilled and then improperly abandoned by oil and gas companies. That’s nearly 1.5 times the previous estimate of roughly 56,000 wells from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a quasi-governmental organization.

Each orphan well is a major climate problem: It spews methane, a potent greenhouse gas. While methane breaks down in the atmosphere faster than carbon dioxide, it’s about 86 times more powerful at warming the planet in the short term.

“I think what you get out of this map is a sense of how big this problem is,” Adam Peltz, a senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund who worked on the analysis, told The Climate 202. “It’s a coast-to-coast problem. It’s a rural and urban problem.”

It’s also one of the simplest problems to fix, if money can be found to do so. The wells do not contribute to the economy, and the Biden Adminsitration is now contemplating a federal program to hire workers to plug the wells.

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