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Legal Petition Aims to Plug Thousands of Old Offshore Oil Wells

by Center for Biological Diversity
GAO Report Reveals Alarming Decommissioning Gaps in Gulf of Mexico, Pacific
WASHINGTON, February 29, 2024 — Nine conservation organizations filed a legal petition today demanding that the Interior Department enact robust regulatory reforms and enforce deadlines for thousands of old offshore oil wells and platforms that are overdue for decommissioning.

A recent Government Accountability Office investigation revealed significant deficiencies in federal oversight of aging offshore infrastructure. The GAO report found more than 2,700 wells and 500 offshore oil and gas platforms with overdue decommissioning obligations in the Gulf of Mexico as of June 2023, raising environmental and financial concerns.

In the Pacific, 100 unused wells remain unplugged and all eight platforms due for decommissioning remain in the water, with no firm timeline for removal.

“Federal officials can’t let oil companies break the law by not plugging decrepit wells and platforms that pose oil spill and safety risks,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Oceans program. “This old infrastructure threatens marine life and coastal communities, and the Interior Department needs to make the oil industry clean up its dangerous mess. This petition is about making polluters pay.”

The GAO report found a lack of deadline enforcement, insufficient bonding and other problems that have allowed the oil industry to evade compliance with mandates. The industry is required by law to decommission offshore infrastructure no longer in use by plugging wells and removing platforms, but those rules are routinely flouted.

Today’s legal petition urges decisive and immediate measures from the Secretary of the Interior to enforce stronger financial assurances and operator accountability, aligning with recommendations from the recent GAO report.

“The oil industry is reaping big bucks from offshore oil wells while leaving the public on the hook for clean-up costs and environmental damage,” Sakashita said. “This problem is more powerful evidence that the oil industry can’t be trusted to follow even the most basic rules to protect our planet.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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