Lawmaker Introduces Bill To Clean Up 3.2 Million Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells

Image: Wikimedia Commons

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Last Thursday, Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM) introduced the Orphaned Wells Cleanup and Jobs Act of 2021 which would authorize nearly $8 billion in grant funding for abandoned oil and gas well cleanup projects across the nation. 

Methane emissions from abandoned wells threaten to derail President Biden’s climate goals, but dozens of environmental organizations believe that Leger Fernández’s legislation could help reach those targets while creating jobs in vulnerable communities devastated by the pandemic.

Why This Matters: There are an estimated 3.2 million abandoned wells in the United States alone, all leaking millions of tons of methane into the atmosphere where it absorbs up to 86 times more heat than CO2. 

Orphaned wells don’t just leak methane, but also other harmful pollutants and hydrocarbons that can negatively impact groundwater, ecosystems, and public health in addition to atmospheric warming. 

  • Rural and Indigenous communities are the most likely to face the repercussions of companies “capping” and abandoning well projects. 
  • After the Trump administration’s rollback on methane emissions, and state governments waiving fines during COVID-19, the country is now critically behind schedule to reduce its methane emissions.

 

Bills, Bills, Bills: The Orphaned Wells Cleanup act will designate $7.25 billion in grants for cleanup on state and private lands, $700 million for cleanup on public and Tribal lands, and $50 million for related research, development, and implementation.

 The bill aims to swiftly re-employ former oil and gas workers in regions with a high density of abandoned wells and incentivize local and state governments to invest in job-creating conservation projects

The bill also makes the legitimate demand that oil and gas companies currently taking hydrocarbons out of the ground have enough money set aside to do their own clean-up so this doesn’t happen again,” said Leger Fernández. “I am proud to introduce legislation that is good for the environment, good for public health, and good for the economy.” 

One of the biggest challenges for cleanup efforts has been the lack of sufficient mapping of wells; even federal regulators don’t know the locations of many wells. Research funding provided by the bill will be used to identify and inventory abandoned wells, rank wells by priority level, and properly eliminate them. The funding will also be used to measure and monitor previously neglected methane emissions from these wells.

 

A Network of Support

President Biden has spoken out about cleaning up abandoned wells, including them in his American Jobs Plan. Leger Fernández hopes that her legislation will make it to his desk with the help of allies like the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, and Moms Clean Air Force. House Committee on Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva, who assisted on the bill said, “it’s a win for workers, communities, and the environment, which is why President Biden included this proposal in his administration’s American Jobs Plan. I look forward to the day when these hazardous sites are a thing of the past.”

A companion bill in the Senate is expected to be introduced by Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) sometime in the coming weeks where it’s unclear if Senate Republicans will be inclined to vote for the legislation.

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