Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 30, 2022


Hollin Kretzmann, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7133,

Groups Call for Oil Industry to Fund California’s Costly Oil Well Cleanup

Federal Funds for Orphan Well Cleanup Could Be Industry Handout

OAKLAND, Calif.— California climate, health and community groups sent a letter to the U.S. Interior Department today urging it to force polluters to pay for the cleanup of tens of thousands of dangerous abandoned oil and gas wells in the state.

Interior is preparing to grant up to $165 million to California to clean up aging oil and gas wells in the state. But California regulators have so far been reluctant to hold oil companies to their legal requirements to plug abandoned wells and restore the surface to its natural state.

Many oil companies attempt to walk away from these obligations or become insolvent and unable to perform the cleanup work, creating “orphan” wells. The California Geologic Energy Management Division has so far failed to use its full authority to crack down on the industry, potentially shifting the costs to taxpayers.

“Orphan well cleanup is a real chance for California to address the oil industry’s dirty legacy and create thousands of jobs in the process, but polluters have to foot the bill,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “If the oil industry isn’t forced to pay for its own toxic mess, this well-intentioned program will end up being another Big Oil giveaway.”

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill to plug these wells,” said Shannon Simpson, executive director of Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas, an organization currently investigating environmental and health risks of abandoned wells in Ventura County. “It’s important to get these wells plugged to protect our communities and the climate, but let’s not let Big Oil off the hook when they’re making record profits.”

Abandoned oil and gas wells can leak dangerous chemicals into the air or nearby water. Some wells leak large amounts of superpolluting methane, which heats the climate 87 times more than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. One study estimated that around two-thirds of California’s inactive wells are leaking some amount of methane.

To combat the climate crisis and create jobs, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has allocated $4.7 billion dollars over nine years to plug and abandon orphan oil and gas wells across the country. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are 3.3 million abandoned wells around the country that are orphaned or idle.

“Californians absolutely need to see these leaking, dangerous wells cleaned up, and the state has all the authority it needs to make polluters pay for it," said Kretzmann.

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San Ado Oil Fields | San Ardo, California by Drew Bird Photography Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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