Luján, Cramer, Heinrich, Mullin Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Develop New Technology to Identify and Plug Orphaned Wells
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) reintroduced the Abandoned Well Remediation Research and Development Act (AWRRDA) to support the identification and remediation of abandoned gas and oil wells. These abandoned wells leak methane and other toxic air pollutants, contaminate groundwater, and create community safety risks. This bipartisan legislation builds on the REGROW Act, championed by Luján and Cramer, which was successfully included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to put skilled energy workers back to work plugging abandoned wells.
Given abandoned wells’ detrimental impacts and the high costs associated with their remediation, new methods and technologies are urgently needed to plug wells more efficiently and economically, and prevent further abandonment of the over 1 million wells that are currently active in the U.S. The Abandoned Well Remediation Research and Development Act (AWRRDA) will enhance well remediation programs around the country, including those currently funded by the REGROW Act. Specifically, AWRRDA will support the Department of Energy’s efforts to develop:
- Technology to detect and catalog abandoned wells more rapidly and efficiently, and accurately quantify their impacts on air and groundwater quality.
- Processes to plug and remediate abandoned wells more efficiently, economically, and sustainably;
- Innovative alternative uses for abandoned wells, including geothermal power production or carbon dioxide storage, which will create entirely new economic sectors that leverage abandoned and hazardous infrastructure;
“There are more than 2 million abandoned oil and gas wells across America that pose tremendous health, safety, and environmental risks to the surrounding communities. That’s why I worked to pass the REGROW Act to address abandoned wells and cut methane emissions, but more research is needed to identify and address these wells quickly and efficiently,” said Senator Luján. “I’m proud to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation alongside Senators Cramer, Heinrich, and Mullin which will make a real difference across New Mexico and the country.”
“North Dakota has led by example remediating abandoned wells, and further progress has been made with the passage of the REGROW Act. Our bill keeps this momentum going by investing in new and innovative ways to track the problem and ultimately mitigate the damage so land is returned to productive use, emissions are reduced, and safety issues are addressed in the most efficient manner,” said Senator Cramer.
“Orphan wells are an enormous source of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more potent than CO2. If we increase the U.S. Department of Energy’s ability to develop better technologies to detect, plug, and find alternative uses for these wells, we can put more of our traditional energy workers to work solving a major climate challenge,” said Senator Heinrich.
“Oklahoma is home to over 17,800 documented abandoned gas and oil wells,” said Senator Mullin. “If left unplugged, abandoned wells can leak methane, contaminate groundwater, and damage land cultivation at a significant cost to landowners. Our bill will provide the resources needed to improve methods for identifying, repurposing, and remediating these wells, thereby cutting costs for landowners and eliminating the potential for environmental hazards across the state. Oklahomans are blessed with abundant, God-given natural resources, and many have made their livelihoods off our beautiful environment. I’m glad to join Senators Cramer, Luján, and Heinrich in introducing this legislation to enhance well remediation programs, lower costs, and improve land safety.”
“The AWRRDA is a targeted and timely bill that builds on progress made through IIJA to tackle America’s abandoned well problem. This new legislation would enable us to find more of these old wells, reuse those we can for beneficial purposes, and close the rest less expensively – all while boosting the economy and creating jobs,” said Adam Peltz, Director and Senior Attorney, The Environmental Defense Fund.
“Abandoned and orphaned wells are scattered across the country, with many of them unsealed and unaccounted for. The AWRRDA offers an innovative approach for locating these wells, better understanding the risks they pose to communities nearby, and, in some cases, even putting them to new, climate-safe uses. Even better, the research this bill supports could make funding already provided by Congress go even further toward cleaning up these wells,” said Josh Axelrod, Senior Policy Advocate, Natural Resource Defense Council.
“Latine communities across the country, but especially in oil producing states such as California and New Mexico, have struggled with abandoned wells for decades. These old, leaky wells not only emit dangerous toxins that put the health of our families at risk but lower property values and land productivity. This important legislation will support critical efforts to improve well-plugging and land remediation, document more orphan wells, and allow for a more comprehensive understanding of the risks they pose to our communities. Now is the time to invest in front-line communities that face disproportionate pollution burdens on a daily basis,” said Irene Burga, Climate Justice and Clean Air Program Director, GreenLatinos.
“We applaud the bipartisan introduction of the Abandoned Well Remediation Research and Development Act (AWRRDA). This bill will build off the provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and increase DOE research to reduce leaks from abandoned wells that can contaminate groundwater and release methane. Remediating abandoned wells can reduce harmful emissions and contamination, protect human health, and generate new jobs. Technology advancements including remote sensors and LIDAR capabilities can help remediate the damage left behind as we advance more responsible domestic mining practices to address our global climate challenges,” said Michele Stockwell, Executive Director, of Bipartisan Policy Center Action.
“Inactive, unplugged wells that have not been properly plugged or reclaimed are a major problem throughout New Mexico, on both public and private lands. It is our hope that this funding to DOE will help BLM and state officials identify inactive wells that need to be cleaned-up immediately. We thank Senators Luján and Cramer for their leadership and this much-needed attention and funding,” said Mark Alison, Executive Director, New Mexico Wild.
“We thank Senators Luján and Cramer for their continued leadership in addressing orphaned and abandoned wells. The AWRRDA provides critical funding to more accurately measure methane emissions as well as improving plugging and remediation of abandoned wells. We urge the Senate to pass this important legislation,” said Amber Reimondo, Energy Director, Grand Canyon Trust.