U.S. requires idle wells in Gulf of Mexico to be plugged

The federal government said Wednesday that it will require oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico to plug in nearly 3,500 non-producing wells and dismantle about 650 production platforms that are no longer being used.

"We have placed the industry on notice that they will be held to the highest standards of planning and operations in developing leases and today's notice reiterates that mandate," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

The order issued requires operators to plug wells that have not been used in five years. The 3,500 wells are currently capped with a "subsurface safety valve," according to the Interior Department.

Federal regulations already require idle wells, platforms and pipelines to be decommissioned -- a process that involves plugging wells and dismantling and removing platform structures and pipelines -- within one year of the lease's expiration date.

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