Teaching our children the difference between right and wrong is always easiest when we lead by example. Our kids will mimic good behavior, and it eventually becomes second nature to them.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve witnessed the same thing with how we approach environmental stewardship and the way we care for our environment. We’re more committed to cleaning up our environment than we’ve ever been, and I attribute that to lessons from generations past. Advancements in technology have also made caring for the environment much easier.

I see that most of us are not aware or take for granted the amazing technological advancements and improvements in the production process that have occurred within the oil and gas industry. Thanks to our innovation and environmental awareness, the industry has consistently improved the way it operates, affording all Americans with the most responsible industry in the world — and it improves daily.

In a time when people are so divided on so many issues, it’s refreshing when the oil and gas industry, social activists and individuals come together to call for the plugging of orphan wells in the United States and for once recognize the industry is taking the initiative. This is further evidence of our shared interest in ensuring the safest, cleanest and most responsible energy in the world.

Currently, oil and gas companies are required to permanently seal wells and restore the surrounding land when the well is taken out of production. However, this wasn’t always the case. Up until the 1950s, government regulations allowed oil and gas companies to essentially walk away from their wells without plugging them. Land remediation of expired well sites in those days was all but nonexistent. By some estimates, New Mexico could face $10 billion in costs if we don’t do the right thing.

With boom-and-bust energy cycles, it wasn’t uncommon to see small oil and gas companies go out of business, causing wells to be abandoned and putting the responsibility on the government to plug them. We have a fund to address this problem, but with so many legacy wells out there, there’s not enough money to get them all plugged.

We have at least 50,000 documented orphan wells across our nation, with some estimates much higher. Fortunately, New Mexico’s delegation understands the situation and is trying to do something about it, while understanding that the industry is moving to innovate.

Sens. Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández sponsored the REGROW Act, which would appropriate $4.7 billion to plug every documented orphan well and carry out restoration to the surrounding area. Thankfully, the legislation was included in the infrastructure bill that recently passed in Congress.

It will also provide funding to the Department of Energy and the Oil and Gas Compact Commission to conduct research and development activities to help federal land management agencies, states and Indian tribes in identifying and characterizing undocumented orphaned wells, and mitigating the environmental risks they may carry. This funding will give federal agencies and industry the tools they need to address not only the documented orphaned wells, but those yet to be discovered that need to be plugged to mitigate environmental harm.

Plugging our nation’s orphaned wells is a no-brainer. It will help protect and improve the environment, fight climate change and has the potential to create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs. Many of the people living in our oil- and gas-producing areas are already qualified to take on these jobs. Let’s put them to work!

We often talk about leaving a better world for our children — this is just one way we can do that and lead by example in the process.

Matthew Gonzales is New Mexico director of Consumer Energy Alliance, a U.S. consumer energy and environment advocate supporting affordable, reliable energy for working families, seniors and businesses across the country.

(1) comment

Fellow Environmental

We agree 100%. You’ve done a great job of providing an overview of of how we got here and resources soon to be available. Thanks for sharing this perspective. For more info on the nonprofit Fellow Environmental Partners, focused on researching and plugging orphaned wells, go to fellowenviro.org

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