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Report: State policies allow oil and gas companies to skirt responsibilities for plugging and cleaning up abandoned wells

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A new report says the state fails to hold companies responsible for the plugging and cleanup of their abandoned wells by allowing companies to use loopholes like keeping wells barely active to avoid having to plug them and offering tax incentives for low-producing wells and high-cost gas wells.

Eliminating Orphan Wells and Sites in Texas” is the latest in a series of publications released by the environmental organization Commission Shift about operations at the Texas Railroad Commission, which is charged with regulating oil and gas development, coal and uranium mining, and gas utility service in the state.

The report asserts that Texas routinely takes on risks without collecting enough taxes and fees from the industry it oversees to deal with them.

It says orphan wells are a problem throughout the state that will only get worse as “the oil and gas industry is exhibiting signs of systemic decline.”

Approximately 9 million people in the U.S. live within one mile of an abandoned oil and gas well, which can emit harmful gasses that are a major problem for the climate and disproportionately impact low-income communities of color.

What constitutes an orphaned well? What are the potential financial and health implications of failing to responsibly plug and clean them up?

What is the Texas Railroad Commission’s role when it comes to regulating oil and gas wells? How does the current system prevent industry accountability?

What reforms could be implemented to fix Texas’ orphan wells problem?

The Biden administration announced on Monday it will provide 26 states including Texas with funding to plug abandoned oil and gas wells. Is it enough?

Guest: Virginia Palacios, executive director of Commission Shift

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call 833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org or tweet @TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Tuesday, February 1.

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