ATCHAFALAYA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, La. (AP) — Stacks of valves, networks of pipes and hulking, two-story-tall tanks litter parts of the swampy landscape of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin, rusting relics of sites where oil wells were drilled in the 1970s, an unwanted legacy of the energy industry that has long helped drive the Louisiana economy.
They are among an estimated 2 million unplugged U.S. “ orphan wells,” abandoned by the companies that drilled them. There are more than 4,500 such wells in Louisiana, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. The owners can’t be found, have gone out of business or otherwise can’t be made to pay in a state where there are decades-long political debates involving legislation and litigation over the environmental effects of oil and gas drilling.