Texas has a serious problem with orphaned wells and while the state might not have a plan the federal government does. The Department of the Interior has announced that Texas will receive over $343 million to cap orphan wells.
Orphan wells are inactive oil and gas wells owned by defunct or bankrupt companies. An inactive well can pose an environmental hazard by leaking toxic chemicals into groundwater or methane in the air, so companies are legally required to plug wells with concrete when they’re done with them. However, since the owners of orphan wells either can’t afford to plug them or don’t even exist anymore, chances are they won’t get plugged unless the government intervenes.
The problem has become particularly acute in Texas, where over a hundred oil and gas companies have filed for bankruptcy over the past six years. Texas now has 6,489 documented orphan wells, although this is likely undercounting the true number as recent analysis suggests the United States has a lot more orphan wells than previously thought.
Plugging orphan wells isn’t just good for the environment, doing so would also create tens of thousands of jobs. This economic boost is sorely needed in Texas after numerous oil and gas jobs were eliminated by the pandemic
Fortunately, the Revive Economic Growth and Reclaim Orphaned Wells (REGROW) Act was included in the infrastructure bill that was signed into law in November. Sponsored by Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, who has been an outspoken advocate on the issue, the REGROW Act allocates $1.15 billion in the first round. This funding will eventually reach a total of $4.6 billion over the life of the program. Texas is set to receive $107 million in the first round and a total of more than $343 million overall, more than any other state.
“I am thrilled that the Department of the Interior is awarding $343,695,029 to the State of Texas—more than any other state—to plug orphaned wells because of my legislation,” said Fletcher. “The funding announced for this program will reduce environmental hazards and public health risks and create employment opportunities for skilled oil and gas workers across our state and our country.”