Oil wells on the Midway-Sunset field


© Jim Wilson / The New York Times

The oil and gas extractive industries are among the human activities with the greatest impact on the environment, not only because of their direct involvement in the hydrocarbon markets, but also because of the substantial damage they cause to the territories where they operate.
One example is the United States where the development of fracking and horizontal drilling has made the country one of the world’s largest producers of oil and natural gas, overtaking Saudi Arabia in 2008 and Russia in 2011. However, the US oil industry remains vulnerable to the effects of the “price war”. Due to higher extraction costs, most US producers suffer from variations in the price per barrel due to the strategic actions taken on the market by the other major world producers. This heavy reliance on the markets has led many small companies to suspend extraction, leaving thousands of idle wells scattered around the world. Ironically, abandoned wells are more harmful than active wells, due to the high emissions of methane, a gas with a much greater effect on the climate than carbon dioxide. The damage caused by the abandonment of wells underlines how the oil industry is based on policies of land appropriation and monetisation of resources, without any attention to environmental and social issues. The theme of securing abandoned oil extraction sites should, instead, be included in the debate on decarbonising the energy sector.

Gianluca Neridetti