Randy Pacheco, the chief executive officer of the San Juan Basin-based A-Plus Well Service, said the state’s workforce needs to be built up to address the orphaned oil and natural gas wells that dot the landscape in many states including New Mexico.
Pacheco was one of the panelists who participated in a roundtable-style webinar discussion about the federal orphaned well program and the Bureau of Land Management’s efforts to implement it. The bureau hosted the webinar, which drew hundreds of people, on Thursday. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was signed into law in November provided $4.7 billion for clean-up, remediation and restoration at orphaned well sites. That led to the U.S. Department of the Interior releasing initial guidelines on Dec. 17 for states to apply for funding.
President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan infrastructure package Monday that includes funding for expanded broadband, plugging of orphaned oil and gas wells and remediating abandoned mines among other investments.. The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has been touted as the largest infrastructure investment since the New Deal. During the signing ceremony, Biden said “we’re taking a monumental step forward to building back better” and praised the bipartisan effort to get the package passed. He further described the law as a “blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America.”
“My message to the American people is this: America’s moving again and your life is going to change for the better,” he said, highlighting funding to replace lead water pipes and service lines and expanding access to affordable, high-speed internet. Biden said he will now visit areas like a structurally unsafe bridge in New Hampshire and union workers in Detroit who are building electric vehicles.
Even though they aren’t actively producing oil or gas, orphaned wells can still spew climate-changing gases into the atmosphere and threaten water sources. U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat from New Mexico, said plugging these wells is an important step to protecting communities and can help put people back to work. He has teamed up with Sen. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, to introduce the Revive Economic Growth and Reclaim Orphaned Wells Act, also called the REGROW Act, calling for $4.275 billion to clean up orphaned wells on state and private lands as well as $400 million for plugging wells on public and tribal lands. It also includes $32 million for related research, development and implementation. “New Mexico has the worst methane emissions in the country,” Luján told NM Political Report last week.
NASA scientists have discovered a methane hotspot the size of Delaware over the San Juan Basin in the northwest portion of the state.
At the end of their useful life, every oil and gas well must be plugged to prevent future contamination as the infrastructure ages and to return the site back to its original state. For the most part, this is done by the operator. However, sometimes bankruptcies lead to wells becoming orphaned, meaning there is no operator to plug them.
Officials say these wells tend to not have had great maintenance and cleaning them up is important to protect both the environment and the health of nearby communities. Democratic Senator Ben Ray Luján says he plans to introduce legislation to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells. This comes as President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan calls for spending $16 billion to plug abandoned wells and mines.