Abandoned oil wells make Gulf of Mexico 'environmental minefield'

The Gulf of Mexico is packed with abandoned oil wells from a host of companies including BP, according to an investigation by Associated Press, which describes the area as "an environmental minefield that has been ignored for decades".

While the explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig has thrown the spotlight sharply on BP's activities in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental safety in the area has been neglected for decades.

There are more than 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico, according to AP, of which 600 belonged to BP. The oldest of the abandoned wells dates back to the late 1940s and the AP investigation highlights concerns about the way in which some of the wells have been plugged, especially the 3,500 neglected wells which are catalogued by the government as "temporarily abandoned". The rules for shutting off temporarily closed wells is not as strict as for completely abandoned wells.

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