How oil companies block well clean-up reforms

Jun 26, 2024

An investigation by ProPublica and Capital & Main details how the oil and gas industry exercises its influence to block policy reforms. In New Mexico, more than 70,000 unplugged wells are leaking toxic chemicals across the state, and there is a multi-billion dollar shortfall between the cost to plug them and the money oil and gas companies have set aside for plugging and clean-up in the form of bonds. Nationwide, there are more than two million unplugged wells, and a gap of tens of billions of dollars between estimated clean-up costs and money held in clean-up bonds, according to the investigation. But efforts to increase bonding requirements and hold operators accountable continue to struggle across the country.

New Mexico’s state legislature introduced several oil and gas reform bills in the 2024 session, including HB 133 Oil and Gas Act Changes. The bill would have made a number of important changes including increasing bonding requirements and granting the Oil Conservation Division the authority to regulate and block the transfer of wells from larger to smaller operators if the risk of abandonment was found to be high, an important measure intended to reduce the number of abandoned wells in the future. Despite participating in negotiations and helping to shape the bill for months, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association advocated against the bill during the session and the bill ultimately died, along with several other oil and gas reform bills.

“Industry killing the bills was the dynamic I saw,” said Adam Peltz, an Environmental Defense Fund senior attorney who worked on the New Mexico bill and similar proposals in other states. The investigation by ProPublica and Capital & Main found that this pattern is common across the countryAccording to U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, “The challenge in anything that involves fossil fuels, and particularly that addresses a profit strategy of fossil fuel companies, is you’re taking on the most powerful lobby in the United States of America.”

Quick hits

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New Mexico Political Report

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Quote of the day

Climate change affects every single person in the community. What lawsuits can do is help to shift the cost burden because low-income, poorer families shouldn’t have to bear the cost of this crisis we’re facing alone.”

—Boulder County Commissioner Ashley Stolzmann, CPR News

Picture This


What is the most dangerous thing in Glacier National Park?

You might guess grizzly bears and wildlife, but accidents near the park’s numerous water features—rivers, lakes, streams, and waterfalls—cause the most fatalities. Wet surfaces like rocks and trees can be incredibly slippery, and mountain waters are cold and swift. Please use an abundance of caution around all water features and maintain a safe distance from fast-moving creeks and streams.


Feature image: Oil and gas development in the Permian Basin, BLM New Mexico