The bipartisan infrastructure bill currently under debate in Washington includes a new, $4.7 billion program to address a significant environmental legacy of the fossil fuel industry — the plugging and remediating of orphan oil and gas wells.
Orphan wells have no owner, so the cleanup liability falls largely to the public. Nearly 60,000 such wells have been documented by state and federal agencies, but there are likely many hundreds of thousands more scattered across more than two dozen states.
Unless properly plugged, oil and gas wells no longer in use pose major environmental hazards. They can contaminate groundwater and surface water resources. They emit methane — a potent greenhouse gas over 80 times more powerful in contributing to warming in the short term than carbon dioxide. They can also release air pollutants that are hazardous to human health.
We organized and worked with a diverse array of stakeholders to ensure bipartisan legislation led by Sens. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota called the REGROW Act that would plug all documented orphan wells in the country was included in the bipartisan infrastructure package. The bill would also make a down payment on cleanup for the broader population of improperly abandoned wells.
That broad coalition includes the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a bipartisan group of a dozen governors, National Wildlife Federation, Independent Petroleum Association of America, Clean Air Council, Evangelical Environmental Network, Grand Canyon Trust, Moms Clean Air Force, National Audubon Society, New Mexico Wild, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, and others.