Statement: Gov. Newsom signs Orphan Well Prevention Act

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Governor takes strong action to make polluters pay for cleaning up oil and gas wells

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Governor Gavin Newsom on Saturday signed AB 1167, the Orphan Well Prevention Act, which will reduce the growing number of abandoned, leaking oil wells in California. Oil wells can contaminate air, soil, drinking water and rivers, making people who live nearby sick. Environment California and NRDC sponsored AB 1167, which was authored by Asm. Wendy Carrillo.

A pair of interactive statewide maps recently released by Environment California show the substantial environmental, health and financial risks that idle and orphan wells cause in the state. 41% of California’s oil and gas wells are either idle or orphaned, and these wells will cost an estimated $2.8 billion to plug and clean up. Moreover, 66% of California’s wells are estimated to be leaking toxic methane — one of the most potent global warming gasses — and 79% of the state’s wells are within a groundwater hydrologic zone, so they threaten groundwater supplies.

AB 1167 will ensure that the owners of oil and gas wells, not California’s taxpayers, foot the bill for cleaning up these wells. The bill will help solve the state’s growing orphan well crisis by requiring oil companies to set aside a bond for the full amount needed to plug and clean up idle and marginally producing wells after ownership transfers. More than 5,500 wells in California are already likely orphaned, and nearly 70,000 more are at risk of becoming orphaned in the near future.

In response, Laura Deehan, Environment California’s state director, released the following statement:

“We’re grateful that Gov. Newsom took the next step in holding the oil industry accountable for its messes by making it put up enough funds to clean up the riskiest oil and gas wells. It’s only fair for oil companies to foot the bill for the abandoned wells that endanger our neighborhoods — not the residents who unfairly have had to live with the pollution from these wells. We thank Gov. Newsom for his strong climate leadership and his willingness to hold oil companies accountable.”