Plugging Abandoned Oil Wells Is One ‘Green New Deal’ Aspect Loved By Both Republicans And Democrats
Few climate proposals have been politicized more than the Green New Deal, although it is essentially a jobs program intended to put people to work fighting climate change – regardless of their political affiliation. But as oil and gas jobs have shriveled up amid the COVID-19 recession, a green jobs proposal has become incredibly popular among Republicans and Democrats: plugging abandoned oil and gas wells.
More than 100 years of drilling have left 3 million abandoned oil and gas wells across the United States, and more than 2 million of them are “unplugged” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Far from mere eyesores or local environmental hazards, these abandoned wells gush millions of metric tons of methane – 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year timeline – and plugging the wells can cut these emissions 99%.
Several Republican-led states have created programs to cap abandoned wells, putting laid-off oil and gas employees back to work, and a federal program to tackle the problem could create hundreds of thousands of jobs that slow climate change while preventing carcinogen leakage into local communities. This concept is part of Joe Biden’s campaign platform, was included in an infrastructure bill passed by the House of Representatives in July, and is being pushed by a coalition of 31 U.S. oil-producing states.
With such widespread support, this win-win idea once again shows how policies reducing greenhouse gas emissions can create jobs without being politicized.
Because state programs have indirectly subsidized oil and gas drilling for years by allowing companies to set aside funds for the future estimated cost of capping wells, sufficient funding usually doesn’t exist to retire and plug wells left behind by bankruptcy.
The current amount oil and gas companies must set aside is based on traditional oil wells, with an average cost of $20,000-$40,000, but actual expected costs to retire fracked wells is closer to $300,000, according to Carbon Tracker. The issue is even worse on federal lands, where drillers are only required to set aside $10,000 for a single well and a maximum of $150,000 for all wells drilled nationwide.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office pegs the total cost of plugging every abandoned well across the country at up to $435 billion, meaning oil and gas companies facing declining demand and unstable financial futures may not have enough revenue and savings to pay well retirement obligations.