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Plugging Orphaned Oil and Gas Wells Is Going to Cost Us a Fortune – Mother Jones
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Plugging Orphaned Oil and Gas Wells Is Going to Cost Us a Fortune – Mother Jones

Plugging Orphaned Oil and Gas Wells Is Going to Cost Us a Fortune – Mother Jones


Workers prepare to plug the orphan oil well at a ranch in Texas near Refugio last May.Eric Gay/AP

This story was originally published in High Country News It is reproduced here as a part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

In JanuaryThe Department of the Interior confirmed what many had suspected: There are more abandoned oil and gas wells than previously thought. In a memo, the agency wrote that more than 130,000 documented wells exist across the country that lack a responsible company on the hook to pay for cleanup—the remnant of more than 150 years of extracting oil and natural gas. This figure, based on data provided by the states, is two-and-a-half times the agency’s 2019 estimate, which put the figure at 56,000.

This is due to President Biden’s November Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $4.7 Billion to plug and reclaim abandoned and abandoned wells. Although this is a significant amount, it pales in comparison with the total cleanup cost of the new abandoned-well. It is expensive and time-consuming to plug wells. A 2021 Government Accountability Office report estimates that the cost to plug all 130,000 abandoned wells would be between $2.6 billion and $19 billion. According to industry experts and the plugging Oil state regulators use cost estimatesThe expected cost will likely be at the higher end of this spectrum. And it’s likely that this larger figure represents only a fraction of the problem: The Environmental Protection Agency in an April 2021 report that there could be as many as 3.4 million abandoned wells nationally.

In a memo announcing the recent plugging program, the agency noted that “millions of Americans live within a mile of the tens of thousands of abandoned mines and oil and gas wells.” Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland has emphasized the environmental justice aspects of this push to plug abandoned wells. Apart from their negative effects on public health and greenhouse gases, abandoned wells have been well documented.

The latest infrastructure spending package includes $250m for wells on public ground, which are heavily concentrated in the West, as well as an additional $150m for tribal governments. According to the US Geological Survey, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado and New Mexico account for 65 per cent of all public-land oil and gas leases. Bureau of Land Management data. The BLM requires less financial assurances from oil companies than other oil states. This is to ensure that cleanup takes place in the unlikely event that the well is abandoned.

BLM Director Tracy Stonemanning and Nada Culver, Deputy Director of BLM, hosted an online forum to launch the new well plugging program. The program featured testimony by industry experts, environmental groups, officials from state oil and gaz departments, and others. Numerous speakers urged agency officials to increase bonding requirements. Sara Kendall, the program director at the Western Organization of Resource Councils, described the federal minimum bond requirements as “decades out of date” and blamed the system for “the problems and the delays in getting … inactive wells plugged and reclaimed.”

Haaland’s tenure as Interior secretary has highlighted the potential job-creation potential for a large-scale initiative to address abandoned wells. She has backed a proposal included in the White House’s Build Back Better spending bill that would create 250,000 jobs plugging oil and gas wells. The US Senate has resisted the bill. Job creation came up often during the public forum.

“We shouldn’t have to choose between good jobs and a clean environment; we can and must have both,” said Jason Walsh, the director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups and labor unions. “And well remediation and reclamation is kind of a perfect embodiment of that principle.”

26 states have so far indicated that they will apply for these grants. On this list are the West’s leading oil and gas states, including: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. According to the, California (5.151), New Mexico (3.375), and Wyoming (1.350) had the highest numbers of orphaned wells. The most recent state reports from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Extra grant funding is available to states that “improve their plugging standards” or increase the financial assurances that oil and gas companies put forward to prevent wells from becoming abandoned. Tuesday’s announcement by the Interior Department was made public. Cross-agency agreement that includes the BLM, the Energy and Agriculture departments, the EPA, the IOGCC and tribal governments. The agreement describes how funding decisions are made and states that Congress will be receiving annual reports on well drilling. The funds will start to be allocated to the states at February’s end. According to the Interior Department.

“These legacy pollution clean-up efforts will advance the Department’s goals of environmental justice by helping historically marginalized communities address the devastating and long-lasting effects of legacy pollution,” the memo stated.


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