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A new report says Utah taxpayers could pay billions for oil well cleanups


Orphaned wells are oil wells that are no longer producing and are abandoned by companies. The Carbon Tracker report, Race to the Top, said there are millions of these wells in the United States. Rob Schuwerk, executive director of Carbon Tracker, said they need to be plugged.

“These companies have these obligations, even if they haven't saved for it,” Schuwerk said.


Wells are left unplugged by bankrupt companies, and the report said Utah hasn’t been holding these companies responsible.


“States like Utah don't require companies to put up financial assurance,” Schuwerk said.


Abandoned oil wells corrode and leak methane and other toxins. They are also a huge cost to taxpayers. Shuwerk said if Utah plugged all its wells, it would cost around 4.4 billion dollars. He said the time to deal with this problem is now.


“Lucky for many of these companies, oil prices are relatively high,” Schuwerk said. “And they can afford to put away some of this money to deal with the obligations they already have.”


Lead author of the report Greg Rodgers said government policies created this problem so new policies need to be the solution. Shuwerk said there is bipartisan interest in Congress to create incentives for states.


“The federal government should offer I'll call it a good quid pro quo to the States, which is if you improve your bonding regimes, we will give you more money to deal with all those old wells,” Schuwerk said.


The report offered a way to measure states progress in keeping only productive oil wells unplugged. Shuwerk said hopefully states like Utah can get on top of the problem before it gets worse.


“So it's really to help those states,” Schuwerk said, “That are ready to help themselves.”


Emma Feuz is a senior at Utah State University majoring in broadcast journalism with minors in sociology and political science. She grew up in Evanston, Wyoming where, just like Utah State, the sagebrush also grows. Emma found her love of writing at an early age and slowly discovered her interest in all things audio and visual throughout her years in school. She is excited to put those passions to use at UPR. When school isn't taking up her time, Emma loves longboarding, cheering on the Denver Broncos, and cleaning the sink at Angies.