News in Brief: Gulf Awash in Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells, and More

The Gulf Coast is awash with both temporarily and permanently abandoned oil and gas wells that largely have been ignored by both government and industry, leading experts to fear that eventual erosion will result in more leaks across the Coast, an AP report finds.

Weak regulation standards and lack of enforcement are partially to blame. The federal agency in charge of offshore drilling oversight, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), requires the oil and gas industry to present a plan to reuse or permanently abandon oil and gas wells within a year. Yet this process is often side-stepped. More than 1,000 of the nearly 3,500 temporarily abandoned wells have sat unprepared for permanent abandonment for a year or more.

States like Texas and California have plugged and replugged thousands of wells since the 1980s to prevent further pollution, the report says. And while states with authority to regulate wells on their coastline have done so, the MMS has largely trusted industry standards when it comes to federal shores.

Some permanently abandoned wells have gone without inspection since the 1940s – leading many to believe that the sealing is beginning to erode.

“Wells can repressurize, much like a dormant volcano can awaken,” the report describes. “And years of exposure to seawater and underground pressure can cause cementing and piping to erode and weaken.”

While the process to prepare a well for abandonment is complicated, it involves one key ingredient: cement. But as Roger Anderson, a petroleum engineer at Columbia University points out, cement “ages, just like it does on buildings and highways.”

Industry officials insist that proper cementing of wells benefits everybody and lasts forever. However, as Anderson and other experts fear, without further inspection, many wells will continue to leak at both state and environmental expense.

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NATO forces mistakenly killed five Afghan soldiers and injured two more early Wednesday morning, The New York Times reports.

Afghan soldiers were preparing an ambush on the Taliban when the planes struck. “A spokesman for NATO forces did not identify which country’s warplanes dropped the bombs,” the Times explains, “but said the accident may have been the result of a ‘coordination issue.'”

Gen. Zahir Azimi, the spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said, “Unfortunately this is not the first time this has happened, but we hope this would be the last one.”

Repeated deadly friendly-fire attacks by NATO forces on Afghan forces are a source of tension between Afghan and NATO forces.

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“I have been open and consistent in my opposition to same-sex marriage, and find that House Bill 444 is essentially same sex marriage by another name,” said Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R) on Tuesday, announcing her veto of a bill that would have granted the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, MSNBC and the AP report. Hawaii’s Bill 444 would have granted benefits for unmarried gay, lesbian, and straight couples.

The long-standing debate on gay marriage in Hawaii escalated on Tuesday with the governor’s veto. Hawaii’s supreme court overturned the state’s ban on gay and lesbian marriage in 1993, but voters again banned it in a referendum in 1998.

The recent bill granting rights received overwhelming support in the legislature and passed in April. In a crushing defeat to the bill’s proponents, the legislature promised not to override any vetoes this term.

Lingle, in her announcement, argued the issue should be decided by ballot referendum and not the legislature, calling it a “mistake to allow a decision of this magnitude be made by one individual or a small group of elected officials.”

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Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega received a seven-year sentence in French court for money-laundering drug profits while in power, The Guardian UK reports.

A former US ally who was on the payroll of the CIA, Noriega was ousted in 1989. He has spent the last 20 years as a prisoner of war in the US.

He is accused of hiding millions of dollars in French bank accounts and they buying luxurious properties in Paris. He also faces an extradition order to Panama, where he has been tried in absentia with charges of embezzlement, corruption and murder of opponents.