Texas to Plug ‘Orphan Wells’ with Taxpayer Funds


Orphan Well | Image by Hart Energy

Months after the Biden administration proposed a $1.15 billion grant to help dismantle “orphan wells,” Texas will receive its first share of $25 million. After being approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Texas Railroad Commission will spearhead a project to plug up at least 800 of these wells scattered throughout the state.

What exactly are orphan wells? Orphan wells are aging, defunct oil wells that companies leave behind for various reasons, such as going out of business. Left behind is a mess of underground piping, fuse boxes, and metal pumps, which can leak methane into the air and pollute groundwater.

To plug one of these wells, concrete must be poured into the well, or a mechanical plug must be fixated, both solutions costing considerable amounts of money. An estimated 1 million of these orphan wells exist within the United States, according to the EPA.

This orphan well cleanup is made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which contains a staggering $550 billion to improve roads, water systems, and more. Of that amount, Texas is eligible to receive $343 million, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

However, experts conclude it will take a lot more to clean up all 7,400 estimated orphan wells in the state. The current number is $482 million in federal funding needed to clean up all the wells, with one plugging job costing from $20,000 to $40,000.

Nevertheless, it’s a start. The first round of federal funding will be used to boost the already-successful State Managed Plugging Program (SMP). The Railroad Commission reported that the SMP had “exceeded performance measures set by the state legislature for six consecutive fiscal years” and that the goal to plug 1,000 wells last fiscal year was completed ahead of time.

“The RRC’s well-plugging staff around the state puts a lot of hard work into helping ensure residents and the environment are kept safe,” stated Clay Woodul, the commission’s assistant director of field operations, oil and gas division.

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4 months ago

The State of Texas should create a tax on the Texas Oil Operators at a rate commensurate with the cost of plugging. Negligence and mismanagement by the oil operators are the causes of the problem and the Texas oil industry as a whole should be responsible for this plugging and cleanup.