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Letter to Secretary Salazar

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

As BP continues to struggle to stop the gushing well over two months after its Deepwater Horizon accident, U.S. Senator Mark Udall today sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking about further dangers posed by abandoned offshore oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

Senator Udall's letter was in response to an investigation by the Associated Press, which found that more than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells beneath the Gulf of Mexico have been ignored for decades. According to the AP, no one is checking to see if they are leaking.

"This report is of great concern to me, as I'm sure it is to you," Senator Udall wrote to Secretary Salazar. "I am concerned that one or more of these wells could pose additional environmental and economic stresses in the already damaged Gulf ecosystem. Prior studies by the Government Accountability Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Minerals Management Service appear to give credence to these concerns."

While Senator Udall believes that addressing the BP accident is of critical importance, he asked Secretary Salazar to answer several questions once the Deepwater Horizon spill is stopped and any urgent environmental remediation is completed. Specifically, Senator Udall wants to know:

* Whether DOI agrees with the central facts or conclusions drawn by these reports and if so, which of these abandoned/closed wells are in federal waters, and whether they are a source of environmental threat?

* What statutory or regulatory obligation DOI has to inspect or ensure proper closure of wells after production has ceased and whether there are differences between onshore and offshore requirements for abandoned or orphaned wells.

* What additional tools or resources DOI needs from Congress to ensure that it can meet its obligations and ensure that any unnecessary environmental or economic risks are addressed?

The following is the text of Senator Udall's letter:

Dear Secretary Salazar,

I know we share the same goal of working together to avoid another environmental or economic disaster of the type we currently are experiencing in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the Deepwater Horizon accident. However, an Associated Press report published today alleges troubling facts regarding further dangers posed by abandoned offshore oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico. This report is of great concern to me, as I'm sure it is to you.

According to today's report, more than 27,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico are no longer producing and have been closed or abandoned. Many of these wells were first drilled in the 1940s and 1950s. I am concerned that one or more of these wells could pose additional environmental and economic stresses in the already damaged Gulf ecosystem. Prior studies by the Government Accountability Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Minerals Management Service appear to give credence to these concerns.

In light of this information, I wish to raise some questions:

* Does the Department of the Interior agree with the central facts or conclusions drawn by these reports? If so, which of these abandoned/closed wells are in federal waters, and does the Department think they are a source of environmental threat?

* What statutory or regulatory obligation does the Department have to inspect or ensure proper closure of wells after production has ceased? Are there differences between onshore and offshore requirements for abandoned or orphaned wells?

* Congress may not have given the Department the full set of tools or resources to properly understand or respond to these concerns. What additional tools or resources does the Department need from Congress to ensure that it can meet its obligations and that any unnecessary environmental or economic risks are addressed?

While these reports are worrisome, obviously your attention must be completely focused on stopping the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I will continue to support your efforts. Once the spill is stopped and any urgent environmental remediation is completed, however, I would urge your Department to quickly work to address any of the valid issues posed by abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico.


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