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California Has Thousands Of Orphaned Oil Wells. Here’s What It Means For Our Communities.

Not only do they affect your health, they’ll affect your taxes too.

By Richard Xu

In this Californian file photo, an oil pumping unit and storage tank near Shane Court in Arvin is surrounded by residential apartments, single-family homes and commercial businesses.

*Image and caption are courtesy of

The state of California announced this past Tuesday that they would be working to cap many “orphan” oil rigs across the state. Wells are defined as “orphans” when their owners cannot be identified, thus absolving the company that previously managed them from any legal or financial liability. The issue is that these particular oil wells are uncontrollably leaking a greenhouse gas (GHG), methane, into the air at an explosive level, that is also affecting local aquifers.

As a GHG, methane traps the sun’s heat for years, accelerating global warming with a methane Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 27-30 times as compared to CO2 over 100 years.

In Bakersfield, California, orphan oil wells are raising serious health and safety concerns among the community. For reference, prolonged exposure to methane in higher than normal concentrations can lead to symptoms such as: dizziness, headache, fatigue, respiratory issues and more, not to mention the explosive potential at or above a concentration of 5% in air.

In addition to leaking methane, the wells leak Benzene, a known carcinogenic volatile organic compound (VOC), according to the EPA.

Though there are 27 leaky wells, 11 of them have owners who refuse to take any liability in capping them. Luckily, with the assistance of the federal government alongside California’s commitment to capping these orphan oil wells, it may be possible to assist these communities in retaking their fresh air. However, it is frustrating for taxpayers to see that these fixes come from their own pockets rather than the companies who explored them.

Nikira Labs’ advanced mobile leak detection technology for methane is a prime candidate in this wells’ capping campaign to locate all of the leaky wells, seal them, and verify the seal integrity.

The sooner these oil wells are properly capped, the sooner surrounding Environmental Justice communities will be able to breathe fresh air again.


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