Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) announced Wednesday that they will require Gulf of Mexico operators to permanently plug nearly 3,500 nonproducing wells that are currently completed with a subsurface safety valve in place. Operators also will be required to dismantle about 650 production platforms if they are no longer being used for exploration or production.

"As part of our sustained effort to improve the safety of energy production on the Outer Continental Shelf and strengthen environmental protections, we are notifying offshore operators of their legal responsibility to decommission and dismantle their facilities when production is completed," Salazar said. "We have placed the industry on notice that they will be held to the highest standards of planning and operations in developing leases and [this] notices reiterates the mandate," he noted.

"As infrastructure continues to age, the risk of damage increases. That risk increases substantially during storm season. This initiative is the product of careful thought and analysis and requires that these wells, platforms and pipelines are plugged and dismantled correctly and in a timely manner to substantially reduce such hazards," said BOEM Director Michael R. Bromwich.

The announcement, which came in the form of a Notice to Lessees (NTL), addresses what is known in the oil and gas industry as "idle iron" -- wells, platforms and pipelines that are no longer producing or serving exploration or support functions related to the company's leases. The NTL will become effective Oct. 15.

Companies will have 120 days after the NTL takes effect to submit a company-wide plan for decommissioning these facilities and wells, according to BOEM.

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