Legislation will Clean Up Orphaned Wells, Reform Outdated Bonding System

DENVER, COLO. – The National Wildlife Federation heralded new legislation that will clean up orphaned oil and gas wells and ensure that energy companies are responsible for future reclamation. The Orphaned Well Cleanup and Jobs Act, introduced by Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM), authorizes $8 billion to plug and clean up orphaned wells while putting thousands of people to work. It will also increase bonding rates and require operators to pay an annual fee for idled wells on public lands.

“This important legislation begins to tackle the enormous backlog of orphaned oil and gas wells that threaten public and private lands, wildlife, and water supplies. Representative Leger Fernandez’s plan will grant $8 billion to state and Tribal governments so they can put thousands of people to work plugging and reclaiming orphaned wells in areas that have been hardest hit economically by the pandemic,” said David Willms, senior director for Western wildlife and conservation at the National Wildlife Federation. “In addition, her bill updates an outdated bonding system to ensure that those drilling the wells – not American taxpayers – are responsible for future cleanups.” 

Over 56,000 orphaned wells have been documented on public and private lands across the nation, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there could be upwards of two million. Orphaned wells can leak methane, contaminate groundwater, and create other safety risks for humans and wildlife alike.

Last month, the National Wildlife Federation and Public Land Solutions released a report documenting 8,050 orphaned or at-risk wells on federal land in five Western states that threatened wildlife and outdoor recreation. The report showed that two-thirds of those wells were in critical wildlife habitat.


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