How Texas’s zombie oil wells are creating an environmental disaster zone


Thousands of abandoned oil wells dot the Permian Basin in west Texas and New Mexico, endangering humans and wildlife. With oil costs plummeting, they’re likely to proliferate. Who is going to cover the cleanup costs?

When Laura Briggs and her husband finally found their dream home in west Texas, they knew they’d be sharing space with the oil industry. The Pecos county ranch’s previous owner, local attorney Windel “Hoot” Gibson, died there when a rickety old pumpjack teetered over and fell on top of him.

But sharing 900 acres with a handful of old oil wells seemed like a fair trade for a spacious ranch where the Briggs family could raise four kids and a mess of farm animals. The property is smack dab in the middle of the Permian Basin, an ancient, dried-up sea that streaks across Texas and New Mexico and is the most productive oil field in the United States. Approximately 3 million barrels of the Permian’s monthly crude production happens in Pecos County; there is an oil or gas well for roughly every two people here.

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