WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) introduced the Revive Economic Growth and Reclaim Orphaned Wells (REGROW) Act of 2021 today, a bipartisan bill to create or retain tens of thousands of jobs for workers in the oil and gas sector by using them to properly clean up and retire abandoned oil and gas wells which currently do not have a party responsible for them.

“While thousands of the nation’s oilfield workers are out of a job, our country has over fifty thousand abandoned oil and gas wells with no one responsible for their cleanup,” said Senator Cramer. “As a top energy and agricultural producer, North Dakota excels at prioritizing the reclamation of these orphaned wells, which keeps people employed, reduces environmental hazards and public health risks, and makes previously unusable land productive again. The REGROW Act would follow our state’s lead by providing states, tribes, and federal agencies the resources they need to properly plug orphaned wells. It’s a win for workers, landowners, and the environment.”

Topline

Across the country, there are over 56,000 documented abandoned oil and gas wells with no responsible party for cleanup, known as “orphaned” wells. Found mostly on state and private land but also federal and tribal lands, these orphaned wells can leak methane, contaminate groundwater, and create safety risks. Even before the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal agencies and states responsible for plugging and reclaiming these wells had limited funding for cleanup. During 2020, global energy oversupply combined with decreased demand due to the pandemic caused major job losses in the energy sector.

If passed, the REGROW Act would effectively address this longstanding issue by providing:

  • $4.275 billion for orphaned well cleanup on state and private lands;
  • $400 million for orphaned well cleanup on public and tribal lands;
  • $32 million for related research, development, and implementation.

North Dakota

Orphaned wells, according to the Department of Mineral Resources, “historically have not been an issue in North Dakota” until the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, along the oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia last summer. In response, North Dakota’s Emergency Commission and legislative Budget Section approved authorized $66 million in CARES Act funds to plug and reclaim orphaned assets in the state. This helped put hundreds of employees back to work and returned land back to its original use. Learn more here.

North Dakota energy leaders offered their support for the REGROW Act and thanked Senator Cramer for his work in introducing it.

“We applaud Senator Cramer’s efforts in introducing the REGROW Act,” said Ron Ness, President of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.  “North Dakota saw great success in 2020 with the use of CARES Act funding to plug and reclaim abandoned wells. In a very tough year, it provided work for our oilfield employees and kept them off unemployment, while working toward the important goal of addressing the abandoned wells in our state.  Expanding this model would provide great benefits to states with abandoned wells, providing assistance to address reclamation needs while also putting people to work.  We thank Senator Cramer for his efforts and look forward to seeing this bill move through Congress.”

“I appreciate Senator Cramer introducing the REGROW Act to provide a resource for states like North Dakota by bringing federal support to a growing concern and by keeping skilled workers on the job and off unemployment,” said Lynn Helms, Director of Mineral Resources. “This act also encourages states to review their existing regulatory framework and seek solutions to prevent the problem from growing.”

“It is imperative we act as good stewards of the environment by plugging orphaned wells across the country, and I’m pleased to see Senators Cramer and Luján introduce legislation to help us do so,” said Kathleen Neset. “Neset Consulting Service, working with the North Dakota Industrial Commission, completed a highly successful project of plugging 63 orphaned wells and reclaiming 8 well sites back to farmland in the Williston Basin late last year. Each well totaled 99 direct jobs which helped prevent people from being laid off during this downturn. We are ready and willing to help finish the job across the country.”

Additional Resources

  • Click here for additional quotes supporting the REGROW Act from energy and environmental leaders.
  • Click here for a one-page summary of the bill.
  • Click here for legislative text.