A couple years ago, Texas had a problem with abandoned oil and gas wells.
It still does.
That was the takeaway Wednesday from a hearing at the state Senate, where lawmakers learned the agency responsible for plugging wells can't seal them as quickly as they're being abandoned.
Abandoned oil and gas wells can leak and damage water supplies, emit chemicals in the atmosphere and present a physical hazard to people nearby. Last legislative session, the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s strangely named oil and gas regulator, said there were around 10,000 such wells in the state, and lawmakers gave it more money to plug them.
On Wednesday, Railroad Commissioners updated the state Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development about the well program. While the presentation sounded upbeat, the numbers were troubling.
When it comes to the number of wells the commission has plugged over the last couple years, “we’ve not only met our targets, but exceeded them,” Commission Chair Christi Craddick said. She expected the commission to plug 3,000 wells by the end of the two-year funding period.
“The problem is,” she added, “we’re back at the exact same number [of wells as when] we started.”
How does that work?
As the commission has been plugging wells, Commissioner Ryan Sitton said, others have been abandoned, leaving the agency treading water. He said commissioners expect the situation to worsen as oil and gas operators move from vertical drilling to the often-more-lucrative horizontal drilling.
“We have 440,000 wells in the state of Texas today and we have about 130,000 that aren’t producing,” he said. That means “you have a lot of old vertical wells that will get abandoned. … They’re going to be coming in greater and greater numbers.”