STATEMENT: California Senate passes Orphan Well Prevention Act

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AB 1167 (Carrillo) would protect Californians from health and financial risks of abandoned oil wells

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Senate, by a 21-11 vote Wednesday, passed legislation to limit the dangers of ‘orphan’ oil wells in California. These wells can contaminate land, surface water and groundwater, making people who live nearby sick. Environment California and NRDC sponsored AB 1167, which was authored by Asm. Wendy Carrillo. The bill is en route to the Assembly for a concurrence vote before it goes to the governor’s desk for him to sign into law.

As California’s oil wells dwindle in productivity, they are frequently sold to less solvent companies that may struggle to pay for cleanup costs. Half of the wells drilled in California since 2010 have changed hands through sales and bankruptcies. More than 5,500 wells in California may already have no viable operator or be at high risk of abandonment in the near future. The state could have to pay about $500 million to properly deal with them. 

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 shortfall by requiring bonding for the full cost of plugging and abandonment upon transfer of idle and low-producing wells.

In response, Steven King, Environment California’s clean energy advocate, released the following statement:

“The pollution from oil drilling doesn’t end when the wells start to run dry. AB 1167 will help make sure that orphan wells’ owners take responsibility for cleaning up their messes.

“Ensuring that any company buying a high-risk well has enough funds to eventually plug and clean up that well is a commonsense way to protect Californians as the state shifts away from burning dirty oil and gas for energy. It’s unfair for taxpayers to foot the bill for cleaning up abandoned wells that endanger our neighborhoods. Oil companies are raking in record profits. They don’t need our help.

“We thank state Senate President Toni Atkins and all the state senators who voted to make polluters pay for cleaning up oil wells, not taxpayers. Their ‘ayes’ bring us closer to a healthier California.”