Limón and Bennett Introduce Legislative Package to Address Idle and Deserted Oil Wells

(SACRAMENTO) – Senator Monique Limon (D- Santa Barbara) and Assemblymember Steve Bennett (D-Ventura) introduced legislation today to protect taxpayers from bearing the significant costs associated with idle and deserted oil wells. The legislation will establish an industry-funded mechanism to employ workers to plug deserted wells and give the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) more authority to pursue companies that have failed to pay required fees.

As noted by the 2018 California Council on Science and Technology Report, idle and deserted oil wells are a significant problem. It is estimated that California may have 5,540 wells without a viable operator, resulting in taxpayer costs ranging from $500 million to billions of dollars.
Idle and deserted wells also increase the risk of environmental and public safety hazards. They contaminate aquifers, create oil seeps, endanger local wildlife, degrade air quality, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and threaten public health and safety. Plugging these wells will also reduce hazards in communities disproportionately affected by neglected and deserted wells.

“As the oil industry declines and California continues to transition to renewable energy, we must confront many former drilling sites or ones deserted by insolvent operators”, said Limón. “Without a responsible operator, taxpayers will be the funding source of last resort for environmental remediation”.

“Idle wells are a nuisance and a public hazard. In Ventura County, there are wells that have been left idle for 12, 15, and 21 years,” said Assemblymember Bennett, “The buildup of toxic gasses can lead to catastrophic situations. In these extreme cases, the State needs additional tools to address these public safety concerns. AB 896 is carefully balanced to ensure that only those who are already in violation of the law are impacted.”

Senate Bill 47 will prevent potentially high taxpayer costs by creating an industry-funded mechanism to employ workers to plug deserted wells. The bill is a significant step to ensure that the oil and gas industry pays for the remediation of hazards that the industry has historically left behind and those the State and taxpayers continue to inherit.

AB 896 authorizes CalGEM to impose a claim or lien on the idle well under specified conditions.

Both bills are pending referral to their relevant policy committees

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Monique Limón represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Santa Barbara, Ventura, Goleta, Buellton,Carpinteria, Guadalupe, Lompoc, Santa Maria, Solvang, Camarillo, Fillmore, Ojai, Oxnard, Santa Paula, and Port Hueneme. She currently serves as the Chair of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee.