A plan to address the growing orphaned wells crisis

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When there is a threat to our communities, and a clear solution is readily available, Congress has no excuse if it fails to come together and fix the problem. That’s what our constituents expect of us.

Over the last few years, we’ve heard from farmers, landowners, business owners, hunters, hikers, energy workers, conservation advocates, oil and gas regulators and concerned citizens in North Dakota, New Mexico, and across the country about orphaned and abandoned wells.

Oil and gas companies are currently required to plug their wells when they cease operating and repair the surrounding land. However, in the early boom years of the late 1800s and early 1900s, oil and gas companies often walked away from their wells without plugging them. These companies by and large no longer exist and can’t be held liable to clean up their mess. Instead, federal, state, or Tribal governments are responsible for addressing this glaring problem. Unfortunately, these well plugging efforts have only a fraction of the funding necessary to get the job done.

The result is that for decades — or longer — these wells could be leaking oil and known carcinogens, endangering local water sources, contributing to air pollution and emitting methane. The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission reports that oil and gas states have officially documented more than 56,000 orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells and estimates that there may be hundreds of thousands of additional orphan wells across the country.

Communities across the country have borne this burden for far too long. They have made it clear that orphaned and abandoned wells left behind by oil and gas companies are harming our communities and families and hurting the economy through depressed home values and damage to agricultural lands, and disrupting other subsurface uses like carbon capture and sequestration.

To tackle this crisis, we’ve come together to offer a bipartisan plan that would help fix the problem and create good-paying jobs in the process.

The Revive Economic Growth and Reclaim Orphaned Wells (REGROW) Act would commit nearly $5 billion to plug and remediate orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells across our country. This effort will not only put tens of thousands of people back to work but also clean up our communities, protect local water sources, and reduce methane emissions — a potent greenhouse gas.

It is time to stop kicking the proverbial can down the road and take meaningful action to tackle this issue — and by doing so, create jobs for families in our communities hit hard by the fluctuation of the oil and gas markets. More than 100,000 oil and gas workers have lost their jobs during the recent crash in oil prices. For these workers, their families and local communities that rely on these jobs and the revenue they create to fund their schools and local police departments, it is a devastating downturn. The REGROW Act will help address this critical need.

With the REGROW Act, we can quickly put these skilled men and women back to work in good-paying jobs plugging wells and improving the environment, productivity and safety in their local communities.

Momentum for this effort continues to grow. Groups ranging from the Environmental Defense Fund, the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, National Wildlife Federation, to the Independent Producers Association of America have all thrown their support behind this bill. A bipartisan group of governors spanning from West Virginia to Kansas to Wyoming have written in favor of it, and the Western Governors’ Association is calling for legislation to support states’ cleanup activities on abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells. Our colleagues Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) have each signed onto the REGROW Act as co-sponsors. That support led to the bill receiving a hearing in the Senate Energy Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining chaired by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) with Ranking Member Mike Lee (R-Utah), and we are grateful for their attention to this matter.

This bill has brought people together across normal divides because they recognize this is a crisis in need of action. As members of Congress and the White House advance their bipartisan infrastructure framework aimed at getting Americans back to work and creating good-paying jobs, plugging orphan wells should be part of the discussion. The REGROW Act will put the skills and training of our energy workers to use reducing environmental hazards and public health risks and making previously unusable land productive again. Let’s not squander this historic opportunity to take meaningful action and address this crisis nationwide.

Lujan is a member of the Commerce Committee. Cramer is a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Tags Bob Casey Catherine Cortez Masto John Cornyn John Hoeven Martin Heinrich Mike Lee oil wells orphan wells

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