Bennet Reintroduces Legislation to Clean Up Orphaned Wells, Improve Lease Sales, and Strengthen Standards on Public Lands

Two Bills Would Expand Opportunities for Public Input, Modernize Bonding Standards, Cut Powerful Methane Pollution, and Create Jobs

Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet introduced legislation to clean up abandoned, or orphaned, oil and gas wells while strengthening bonding requirements and expanding opportunities for local input in lease sales on public lands. The pair of bills would restore local governments’ and tax payers’ important role in public land management decisions, while ensuring they are not left on the hook for future cleanup and remediation costs.

“Colorado’s economy depends on our public lands, but the last Administration too often cut Colorado communities out of management decisions, and left local governments on the hook to clean up the mess,” said Bennet. “Our bills not only invest in orphaned well clean up, but also restore the role of local leaders in lease sales, and hold companies operating on public lands to the same high standards that responsible operators already follow. Together, these bills will reduce methane emissions — which is the fastest way to protect our climate, restore wildlife habitat, and create good-paying jobs.”

The legislation enjoys broad support across Colorado:

"The 57,000 orphaned wells that currently dot the United States pose multiple threats to the public's safety and welfare, including harming wildlife and livestock, contaminating groundwater, and emitting dangerous chemicals into the air. The restoration of these orphaned wells and modernizing federal leasing requirements for oil and gas development on federal land is key to protecting the interests of Western Colorado residents. The persistent lack of funding for properly plugging and reclaiming orphaned wells has created an unacceptable risk to the public's health, environment, and economy, and Senator Bennet's legislation poses a set of robust, common sense solutions to addressing it,” said Beth Melton, Routt County Commissioner.

"Senator Bennet's legislation is a breath of fresh air that will introduce desperately needed accountability and transparency into the way the federal government manages oil and gas production on our federal lands. It should not be the taxpayer's responsibility to pay for the cleanup of an operator's mess, nor should local governments be left out in the cold when decisions are made about the public lands that their communities rely on for business and recreation. This is a golden opportunity to address both of these challenges by modernizing America's approach to oil and gas development on public lands,” said Tim Corrigan, Routt County Commissioner.

"I am proud to support the reintroduction of Senator Bennet's legislation to update the federal government's financial assurance rules for oil and gas wells drilled on public lands, and bring the Bureau of Land Management's leasing practices into the 21st century. Abandoned oil and gas wells that do not have an operator to hold responsible for the cost of cleanup pose a serious threat to both our environment and the public's health, as well as a liability for American taxpayers. By strengthening bonding requirements and ensuring that the federal government is transparent and uses best practices that includes the feedback of local communities, these policies will help ensure that Colorado remains healthy, beautiful, and economically secure for generations to come,” said Lynn Padgett, Ouray County Commissioner.

"Energy producers have a responsibility to ensure that they clean up after themselves when they drill on our public lands. Senator Bennet's legislation will require the full cost of properly plugging and reclaiming a well pad is incorporated into an appropriate bonding amount that is necessary for the privilege; and make sure that local communities have a say when the federal government auctions leases to producers. Abandoned oil and gas wells place an unacceptable burden on American taxpayers in terms of our health, our economy, and our use and enjoyment of federal lands,” said Jonathan Houck, Gunnison County Commissioner.

"Our way of life in Western Colorado is defined by our wide open spaces, wild lands, clean air and water, recreational opportunities and the diversity of our wildlife. Outdated federal leasing rules and  insufficient financial assurances for the plugging and reclamation of oil and gas wells have resulted in air and groundwater pollution, unfair taxpayer burdens, and they have left residents and governments without an adequate voice in public lands management. Our collective future depends upon successfully reducing and mitigating fugitive  methane from old and poorly managed mines and wells. Senator Bennet's legislation is an excellent opportunity to finally address these challenges, and invest in the health and economic success of Coloradans,” said Greg Poschman, Pitkin County Commissioner.

"The federal pause on oil and gas extraction on public lands gives us an opportunity to approve much needed reasonable reform. Senator Bennet's PEOPLE ACT is a critical component of reform that would improve transparency, public comment opportunity, local government coordination and protection for surface owners. These are common sense, reasonable reform measures that would allow the industry to continue operating on public lands, while protecting public health, the environment and our local western slope economies that rely on multiple uses of our public lands,” said Hilary Cooper, San Miguel County Commissioner.

"Eagle County is thrilled that Senator Bennet will reintroduce legislation to restore orphaned wells. These oil and gas wells that are abandoned by companies without being fully plugged and reclaimed pose many risks to communities and public lands. Although Eagle County is not home to oil and gas industry, these orphaned wells can leak methane into the air, leach toxins into groundwater, harm wildlife and livestock, and impact other public lands resources and recreation opportunities. Air and water pollution, and environmental damage, do not pay attention to county boundaries. Funding for restoration of these orphaned wells is necessary for the health of residents and the stewardship of public lands. Lack of funding adversely and unfairly impacts state taxpayers, and damages the state’s economy and environment,” said Kathy Chandler-Henry, Eagle County Commissioner.

"At a time when devastating wildfires and crippling drought have  threatened the homes and livelihoods of Coloradans, it is essential for our leaders in the federal government to step up and take action to confront the sources contributing to these environmental hazards. Senator Bennet's legislation will go a long way toward addressing the crisis of orphaned oil and gas wells emitting methane into the air,  and ensure that local governments and residents have a seat at the table when decisions about the public lands on which they depend are being made. I am proud to support the reintroduction of these bills,” said Jeanne McQueeney, Eagle County Commissioner.

"The residents of Western Colorado know the value of protecting the  federal lands on which we live, work, and play. The historically inadequate financial assurances and barriers to local communities having a say in how their public lands are managed has created an unmitigated crisis of harmful methane emissions and pollution of our  groundwater - all while leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for clean up. Senator Bennet's legislation takes desperately needed action to address these problems by increasing the transparency of the federal leasing process, holding operators accountable for cleaning up after  themselves, and modernizing the management of oil and gas development on public lands so that we may preserve them for future generations of Coloradans to come,” said Matt Scherr, Eagle County Commissioner.

A full list of statements of support is available HERE.

The Oil and Gas Bonding Reform and Orphaned Well Remediation Act would take a two-step approach to address the risk that orphaned wells pose to watersheds, wildlife, and livestock; reduce the burden on local governments; modernize federal standards; and cut powerful methane pollution while creating good-paying jobs. First, it would create a fund to dramatically expand orphaned well cleanup on federal, state, and tribal lands, creating good-paying jobs. Second, it would modernize federal oil and gas bonding requirements to reflect the true cost of clean-up, while increasing transparency. This will ensure that companies, rather than taxpayers or state and local governments, cover the costs of future cleanup. President Joe Biden included funding for orphaned well cleanup in his American Jobs Plan. 

The bill text is available HERE. A one-page summary of the bill is available HERE.

The Public Engagement Opportunity on Public Land Exploration (PEOPLE) Act would restore the role of the public, county commissioners, and other local elected leaders in shaping decisions about public land management and lease sales. The bill would increase transparency for lease sale nominations and bids, establish adequate and consistent public notice and comment periods, and require outreach to local governments, landowners, and public land user groups to minimize future conflict.

The bill text is available HERE. A one-page summary of the bill is available HERE.