Congress, Small Oil & Gas Companies Work To Cap ‘Orphan Wells’

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tucked in the forests and countryside, more than 56,000 old and abandoned oil and gas wells are scattered throughout the United States. Those are the wells industry experts have on record, according to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Potentially, hundreds of thousands more remain undocumented or are unknown altogether.

Sometimes, for oil and gas industry workers like David Clark, these so-called “orphan wells” are hidden in plain sight.

“If there was a road to them in 1885, you wouldn’t see it now,” said Clark, president of the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Coalition, a group of volunteers and industry officials promoting environmentally friendly oil and gas production.

Now dried up, these wells have sat dormant for decades. Many date back to the origins of the oil industry, which began in Titusville, Pa. in 1859.

But, the wells can still unknowingly emit methane gases or leak petroleum into nearby watersheds. Clark, whose family owns a small oil and gas company in Warren County, Pa., has led the Coalition’s efforts capping the wells on their own in recent years.

“These wells are getting to a point that if we don’t get in them soon, $10,000 or $20,000 plugging jobs are going to become $100,000 plugging jobs because you have to remove all of those materials,” he said.

That high cost is why Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) recently the POWER Act. It reauthorizes a federal orphan well remediation program, and establishes a new $2.2 billion grant program to cover the capping and plugging costs for private companies.

“These small businesses, they have the personnel,” Thompson said. “They have the experience, they have the technology. They know how to do this.”

Thompson, who introduced the bill last week, also hopes the it will keep workers on the job. Tens of thousands — possibly up to 107,000 — of layoffs and job losses hit the oil industry due to plummeting fuel prices during the pandemic.

“It’s just a great opportunity to help our mom and pop oil and gas companies that are out there,” said Thompson, who recently joined the Conservative Climate Caucus in Congress.

That includes Clark’s family-owned drilling company, Oil and Gas Management, now in its third generation. The goal, he said, is two-pronged: to help workers who are trying to make a buck, and also to make the environment better for future generations.

“It’s going to be multi-years,” Clark said of the capping efforts. “Probably several decades.”


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