After sabotaging own oil wells, Exxon faces $1 billion in fines

By Brian Merchant

Image at

Image at

It’s not pretty. In fact, it’s pretty disgusting. According to Bloomberg:

Jerry Patterson, commissioner of the land office that oversees oil leases that help fund Texas schools, asked the Texas Railroad Commission to conduct hearings into an alleged 1990s program at Exxon Mobil of plugging abandoned wells with trash, sludge, explosives and cement plugs. The barriers made it impossible for other producers to revive the wells, Patterson said in a statement he gave to Bloomberg News yesterday.

So that’s an environmentally offending twofer–it both further degrades the area around the wells, and wastes the ever more scarce natural resource that had already been drilled for exploitation. On the bright side, I guess it’s a bit of petrol that won’t get burned . . .

So why the spiteful rampage? It seems Exxon had a bit of a falling out with one of Texas’s most prominent oil families, the O’Connors.

From the 1950s to the late 1980s, the O’Connors earned more than $40 million in royalties on crude and gas pumped from 121 wells that Exxon Corp., as the company was then known, and a predecessor, Humble Oil & Refining Co., drilled on the family’s land near Corpus Christi, according to court filings.The relationship between Exxon and the family deteriorated in the late 1980s, when the company’s request for a reduction in the 50 percent royalty rate was rebuffed, court documents showed. Exxon said the field was no longer profitable and began shutting wells, a process that concluded in August 1991, the documents showed.

After Exxon packed up and left town, the O’Connors decided to tap the rest of the oil from the partially sapped fields.

Two years later, Emerald Oil . . . agreed to lease from the O’Connors one-third of the area formerly operated by Exxon. When Emerald drilled into the plugged wells to revive production, drill bits collided with cement, severed pipes and explosive charges normally used to perforate rock formations, Patterson said.

Bad form indeed.

Posted at Treehugger

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