oil and gas

Brittany Patterson

There are approximately 14,000 “orphaned” oil and gas wells across the state of Kentucky, according to state officials.

Abandoned by the original operators, these wells litter forests and fields, limiting where farmers can grow crops and presenting environmental and human health hazards. Many have been left uncapped to bubble gas and leak oil for decades.

Now, after five years of stakeholder meetings between environmental groups and the oil and gas industry, Kentucky lawmakers have introduced House Bill 199 to plug orphaned oil and gas wells and abandoned storage tanks that threaten health, safety and the environment.

Brittany Patterson

William Suan is no stranger to the problems abandoned oil and gas wells can cause.

“It's just an eyesore,” he said, standing inside a barn on his cattle ranch near Lost Creek, West Virginia. “I had to fence one off because it's leaking now.”

There are five inactive wells on his land, most installed in the '60s and '70s, and the companies that owned the wells have long since gone out of business.

On a recent rainy Monday, Suan treks down a muddy hill on the backside of his property. Hidden in the wooded thicket is a three-foot-tall rusted tube jutting out of the ground.


Brittany Patterson

On a recent chilly Tuesday morning, about 20 people filed along a winding dirt path leading deeper into West Virginia University’s Arboretum in Morgantown.

Armed with binoculars, smartphones and hiking boots, the group had one goal — spot and identify the chittering birds hidden in the trees above.

LeJay Graffious with the Mountaineer Audubon chapter led the bird walk.