Release: Orphan Well Prevention Act passes out of California Assembly

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Assembly, by a 49-16 vote, passed legislation Thursday that would protect people from the financial and health risks of orphaned oil wells. AB 1167, the Orphan Well Prevention Act, was authored by Asm. Wendy Carrillo and co-sponsored by Environment California and NRDC. More than 5,500 wells in California may already have no viable operator or be at high risk of becoming orphaned in the near future, and the state’s potential net liability to properly deal with them totals approximately $500 million. 

“It’s unfair for Californian taxpayers to foot the bill for cleaning up abandoned oil wells in their neighborhoods,” said Steven King, Environment California’s clean energy advocate. “The companies that ran the wells should pay to clean up the mess left behind when they stop producing oil, instead of turning the other way and subjecting communities to dangerous environmental and health impacts.”

These wells can contaminate land, surface water, and groundwater, sickening communities and representing a huge liability to the state. 

As California’s oil wells dwindle in productivity, they are frequently sold to less solvent companies that are less likely to pay for cleanup costs. Half of the wells drilled in California since 2010 have changed hands through sales and bankruptcies, and smaller companies that acquire these wells are often one bankruptcy away from their wells being orphaned. 

The average cost to plug and abandon a well is around $68,000, but the average bond available per well is around $1,000. AB 1167 would address this risk by requiring bonding for the full cost of plugging and abandonment upon transfer of wells, to help ensure that the public is not stuck footing the bill or suffering the health consequences of living near orphan oil wells. 

“We thank Asm. Wendy Carrillo, Speaker Anthony Rendon, and members of the Assembly for passing this important legislation today,” concluded King. The bill will next move to the relevant state Senate policy committees.