Energy & Environment

Democrats want Congress to help plug ‘orphan’ oil and gas wells

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A group of lawmakers is pushing Congress to address oil and gas wells that have been abandoned or whose operators are unknown in a future coronavirus stimulus package.

So-called orphan wells emit both methane and carbon dioxide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Wells that are plugged have lower emissions on average than those that are not. 

On Monday, New Mexico Democrats Sen. Martin Heinrich, Rep. Ben Ray Luján and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small released a statement in favor of taking action to close off these wells. 

“Old, decaying wells and environmental damage threaten communities across the country,” they said. “Congress should respond to this challenge with strong funding for states and tribes to address the current backlog of these orphan wells, put thousands back to work plugging them and restoring the land, and protect groundwater and curb hazardous emissions and greenhouse gases.”

Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on orphan wells Monday during which some stakeholders spoke in favor of closing the wells. 

Lynn Helms, the director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, told lawmakers that his state did not have any orphan wells prior to the coronavirus pandemic but now has more than 300. 

“Funding this important work will provide an immediate, meaningful stimulus,” Helms said. “In North Dakota, we estimate that plugging and reclaiming our small number of orphan wells could sustain 600 service sector jobs for six months.”

The comments also come amid a push from green groups and others for more environmental provisions in future stimulus legislation. Certain environmentalists have previously said they believe the House’s recent HEROES Act should have gone further to address these issues. 

During the pandemic, oil prices have also dropped amid a decrease in demand and international disputes, hurting the industry. However, they have been on the upswing in recent weeks.

Tags Ben Ray Lujan Martin Heinrich New Mexico oil wells orphan wells Xochitl Torres Small
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