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Trump Administration Urged to Put People Back to Work on Orphan Wells

Approximately 57,000 orphan wells are documented on federal, state, tribal and private lands, and hundreds of thousands more are undocumented or at risk of being abandoned and not plugged. (Pixabay)
Approximately 57,000 orphan wells are documented on federal, state, tribal and private lands, and hundreds of thousands more are undocumented or at risk of being abandoned and not plugged. (Pixabay)
May 7, 2020

LINCOLN, Neb. -- As the oil and gas industry braces for more pain because of falling demand and a glutted market, 31 oil and gas producing states, including Nebraska, are asking the Trump administration to put unemployed oil and gas workers back to work cleaning up abandoned well sites.

With Congress also looking for ways to get people back to work, Kate Kelly, public lands director for the Center for American Progress, says an investment in plugging orphan wells will pay off down the road.

"A natural place to start is to create a dedicated fund to clean up orphan wells that will put hundreds and thousands of people back to work, with minimal training and with minimal relocation," she states.

Wells that are not plugged frequently leak methane, and can contaminate groundwater.

Kelly says orphan wells also create safety hazards. In Ohio, an elementary school had to be evacuated because of a gas leak traced to an abandoned well under the gym.

Industry groups note that most wells are not abandoned and are plugged by oil and gas companies.

Kelly says major oil players are unlikely to go out of business in the next year or two, and will continue to plug old wells in order to continue doing business. She says medium and smaller producers already in debt don't have the cash, and there's little incentive to reclaim well sites.

Kelly says there already are tens of thousands of documented orphan wells across the nation

"Including at least 75 in Nebraska," she points out. "That number is sure to go up over the coming months as operators go bankrupt and walk away from their reclamation responsibilities."

Kelly's group projects that a $2 billion orphan well fund could support 14,000 to 24,000 jobs in energy producing states.

There are currently some 57,000 documented orphan wells, and Kelly says hundreds of thousands more are undocumented, or at risk of becoming orphaned.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE