“Petroleum ghosts”, on France 5: no extinction for pollution linked to oil industry

An edifying survey alerts on the 20 million at 30 million “zombie wells” abandoned, Bombs with delay for the environment and health.

by Audrey Garric

The figure is dizzying and yet unknown: 20 million to 30 million oil and gas wells are abandoned worldwide by the petroleum industry. They generate large soil pollution, aggravate climate change and harm health. In an edifying documentary, Audrey Gloaguen accompanied the whistleblowers who track down these “delay bombs” and denounce the deleterious consequences.

In the United States, Germany, in the North Sea: each time, history is repeated. These ancient boreholes let escape underground, at the bottom of the seas or in the atmosphere, of oil, toxic substances and, above all, methane, a greenhouse gas much more powerful than the co 2 .

In Bradford (Pennsylvania) and Alney (New York), several houses were reduced to crumbs – without making victims – after exploding, in 2011 and 2019, under the effect of the methane infiltrated in the ground. In Texas, a gigantic toxic lake continues to grow, formed by water sprained by a well, and gives off methane and hydrogen sulfide, a deadly gas. Further on, whole sections of earth have collapsed, forming vast abuses.

nausea, vomiting

In the suburbs of Los Angeles, a huge gas leak on the Aliso Canyon site, a former petroleum well transformed into gas storage, resulted in nausea, vomiting or rashes in residents, between 2015 and 2016. Several thousand families had temporarily relocated. In France, 12,500 wells are no longer exploited, half of which is in Alsace. Some are monitored, but others not.

How is it possible? Some of these “zombie wells” have been abandoned by companies that have disappeared in the wild, others have been declared inactive by companies who do not want to pay the rebut costs, or badly rebuilt by unscrupulous subcontractors . The investigation also shows oil tankers trying to hide scandals and health authorities closing their eyes.

Audrey Gloaguen involves many residents and experts – doctor, environmental engineer, oceanographer or director of a water conservation district – and immerses us in multiple archives and reports. The director also makes it possible to visualize this pollution much more discreet than a oil spill: drone plans reveal unused pumping easels as far as the eye can see, while infrared cameras spot methane leaks.

We will regret, however, that the petroleum industry is not expressed in the documentary. The already excavated investigation could have gained in depth with more context: by mentioning, for example, the figures for oil production in the United States, past and present, and methane emissions generated in certain American states by Ghost wells, which scientific studies have documented.

/Media reports cited above.