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A regional public media collaboration serving the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Cleaning Up Oil And Gas Wells That Run Dry Could Cost Billions


The vast majority of the nation’s oil and gas wells are located here in Mountain West. But a new report says once those wells run dry it could cost taxpayers billions of dollars to clean them up.


Aaron Weiss with the Center For Western Priorities said the report is "a huge red flag."


The conservation group says it would cost taxpayers more than six billion dollars to clean up all the wells on federal land.

That’s because, according to the report, the cost of clean up has risen over the past six decades.

But at the same time, the price the U.S. government charges companies to pay for that clean up has remained the same.  

“It creates an incentive for these oil and gas companies to just be irresponsible knowing that taxpayers will have to clean up their mess,” Alan Olson with the Montana Petroleum Association said. “Well, I think they’re just out to generate a little bit of fear.”

“You probably could say that to plug every well in the United States we’re looking at billions of dollars, but that’s not the case because we’re not going to plug every well in the United States," Olson said.

He adds there are also other revenue sources, such as state funds, to help pay for clean-up.

But the Center for Western Priorities says state funds don’t always pony up for federal wells.   

If wells aren’t cleaned up they can poison groundwater or even leech gas, leading to explosions.

This piece was produced as part of the Mountain West News Bureau, a journalism consortium of six public radio stations in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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