Orphaned Black: Taxpayers Will Plug Abandoned Gas/Oil Wells

August 29, 2022

Houston Chronicle:

Texas will begin plugging about 800 abandoned oil and gas wells this fall, the state’s oil and gas agency said, after receiving an initial $25 million grant from a program included in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.

It’s a fraction of the approximately 7,400 documented abandoned oil and gas wells that need to be plugged in the state — and industry observers believe the figure to be an undercount. Several more millions of dollars are expected to be disbursed to Texas through the newly created federal program.

Abandoned oil and gas wells leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is the second-largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. The wells, if not properly plugged, also can leak toxic water and chemicals in the surrounding areas. One orphan well, leaking extremely saline groundwater and hydrogen sulfide gas, has created a massive artificial lake in West Texas, known as Lake Boehmer.

Methane lasts in the atmosphere for less time. Cutting methane emissions is one of the most effective short-term tools to reduce the effects of climate change, scientists say.

The projected cost to plug and clean up the pollution from all 7,400 documented wells is approximately $482 million, according to the commission’s notice of intent to apply for federal funding obtained by The Texas Tribune.

But an estimate from the Department of the Interior shows that Texas likely will be eligible for less than that — about $344 million in federal funds.

The bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year by Congress dedicated $4.7 billion to create a new federal orphan oil and gas well remediation and plugging program. Both Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz voted against the law — as did every Republican House member from Texas.

The first grant of $25 million to Texas is part of an initial award of $560 million in 24 states. There are more than 10,000 high-priority well sites ready for remediation, according to the department’s estimates based on state applications.

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