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The bust in the energy industry has left Texas with nearly 10,000 abandoned wells that need plugging. That in itself isn’t good, but couple in the fact that the state Railroad Commission doesn’t have the money to pay for it.
The Railroad Commission oversees the energy industry and outgoing Commissioner David Porter told state lawmakers the agency won’t be able to afford the estimated $165 million needed to plug the wells. “We need to have a serious conversation with the legislature about how the Railroad Commission will be funded going forward, especially for critical functions such as well plugging and remediation.”
In addition to being rusted eyesores and dangerous to children, orphaned wells are potential environmental hazards. A 2011 report by the multistate Ground Water Protection Council found at least 30 cases of groundwater contamination in Texas caused by orphan wells.
While drillers are supposed to be responsible for cleanup many evade it by filing bankruptcy. More than 50 oil companies have filed for bankruptcy since 2014.
Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger says the problem is the current bonds collected for cleanup only covers about 20-percent of the cost of cleanup and that needs to change. “There needs to be a pretty hefty increase in the amount of money that oil and gas companies are required to put up.”
And the news isn’t expected to get better. Texas officials are predicting the number of orphaned wells could soar to 12,000. The increase would be nearly 25 percent more than what regulators can’t keep up with now.