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Leger Fernández Introduces Bold Legislation to Clean Up Orphaned Wells, Reduce Methane Pollution and Create Jobs

April 8, 2021

Today, Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández introduced the Orphaned Wells Cleanup and Jobs Act of 2021 to clean up over 56,000 known “orphaned” oil and gas wells across the country currently leaking methane, contaminating groundwater, and creating a safety risk for communities.

In line with the Congresswoman’s priority to promote a just transition to clean energy, the bill would invest $8 billion to help stimulate rural economies and create jobs cleaning up these sites on federal, state, private, and Tribal lands. 

You can access a summary of the bill here and text of the bill here.

“I am proud to introduce legislation that is good for the environment, good for public health, and good for the economy, said Congresswoman Leger Fernández. “Fossil fuel companies abandoned hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells; they abandoned their duty to clean up after themselves. These orphaned wells leak methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gasses, and other pollutants. Their leaks into the air and groundwater pose serious public health risks, especially to rural, Tribal, and communities of color.  When we clean them up, we create good paying jobs and reinvest in the communities abandoned by these fossil fuel companies. The bill also makes the legitimate demand that oil and gas companies currently taking hydrocarbons out of the ground have enough money set aside to do their own clean-up so this doesn’t happen again. I am grateful to the Biden Administration for including orphaned wells in the American Jobs Plan. The American communities that fueled our country must not be left behind as we transition to clean energy. I thank Chairman Grijalva and my colleagues for working with me on the legislation. Now let’s get this bill through Congress and onto the President’s desk.”

“Communities suffer when oil and gas companies abandon their drilling sites and don’t clean them up,” said House Committee on Natural Resources Chair Raúl  Grijalva. “We know that oil and gas development has broad environmental impacts and public health impacts. It’s imperative that we do everything possible to limit the risk and damage done by this development. Wells abandoned by fossil fuel companies – known as orphaned wells – can create enormous environmental and health risks. I’m grateful that Representative Teresa Leger Fernández is leading the charge, along with other members of the New Mexico Delegation, to clean up these dangerous sites and create good jobs in the process. I support her bill that cleans up orphaned wells to stop methane leaks, restore the land, and protect water supplies. It’s a win for workers, communities, and the environment, which is why President Biden included this proposal in his administration’s American Jobs Plan. I look forward to the day when these hazardous sites are a thing of the past.”


The Orphan Wells Cleanup and Jobs Act:

  • Authorizes $7.25 billion in grant funding for orphaned well cleanup on state and private lands, $400 million for cleanup on public lands, and $300 million for cleanup on Tribal lands. 
  • Strengthens regulatory safeguards on public lands to prevent future orphaned wells. 
    • Increases minimum public land oil and gas bonding amounts to $150,0000 and $500,000 for all of an operator’s wells on an individual lease or in an entire state, respectively. 
    • Requires operators pay an annual fee for idled wells on public lands.
  • Allocates $50 million for related research and development to identify, characterize, and mitigate undocumented orphaned wells. 

The House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold a hearing on the Orphaned Wells Cleanup and Jobs Act on Thursday, April 15th. Among those testifying are Don Schreiber, a rancher from Rio Arriba County, NM, Lori Wrotenbery, Executive Director at the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, and Ted Boettner, Senior Researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute. 

The Orphaned Wells Cleanup and Jobs Act is endorsed by ProgressNow New Mexico, New Mexico Environmental Law Center, NM Voices for Children,, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Earthworks, The Wilderness Society, Western Organization of Resource Councils, Nevada Wildlife Federation, Colorado Farm and Food Alliance, Project CoffeeHouse, Responsible Drilling Alliance (RDA), Grand Canyon Trust, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania, Clean Water Action, Mom Clean Air Force, Clean Air Council, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Climate Advocates Voces Unidas (CAVU), Montana Wilderness Association, The Ohio Environmental Council, Dakota Resource Council, Defend our Future, The Evangelical Environmental Network, and Center for American Progress. 

“For decades, orphaned oil and gas wells have left communities responsible to pay for a mess they didn’t create and deal with the hazards of chemicals leaking into the air and drinking water,” said Michael Casaus, New Mexico Director for The Wilderness Society. “Rep. Leger Fernández’s bill would immediately work to clean up the nation’s orphan well crisis, while creating thousands of good paying jobs that help transition our public lands away from fossil fuels towards a cleaner, sustainable economy.”

“This important legislation begins to tackle the enormous backlog of orphaned oil and gas wells that threaten public and private lands, wildlife, and water supplies. Representative Leger Fernández’s plan will grant $8 billion to state and Tribal governments so they can put thousands of people to work plugging and reclaiming orphaned wells in areas that have been hardest hit economically by the pandemic,” said David Willms, Senior Director for Western Wildlife and Conservation at the National Wildlife Federation. “In addition, her bill updates an outdated bonding system to ensure that those drilling the wells – not American taxpayers – are responsible for future cleanups.”

“The costs of cleaning up abandoned oil and gas wells should be shouldered by industry, not American taxpayers,” said Josh Axelrod, a Senior Advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This bill takes important steps to ensure that in the future, industry is on the hook for the harms they leave behind. In the meantime, it provides a pathway for remediating the serious toxic legacy of orphaned and abandoned wells that exists across the country, creating thousands of jobs and numerous ecological benefits in the process.”

Additional quotes of support here.