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Time for a bipartisan solution to orphaned wells

Recently, I appeared before a House subcommittee to discuss legislative proposals for plugging abandoned oil and gas wells. This bipartisan effort, supported by the Biden administration, both houses of the U.S. Congress, and many states, would provide environmental benefits while getting thousands of laid-off oil field workers back on the job.

During my testimony, I urged lawmakers to work together in formulating smart public policy. Stemming greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.5 million cars per year while creating jobs should draw widespread support.

Members of the Energy Workforce & Technology Council provide energy in the most safe, efficient, clean and responsible way possible. Our sector leads development of technology that will drive the energy transition. The council represents 700 companies employing more than 600,000 energy workers. Our membership includes large oil field services companies with global operations, as well as small family-owned well servicing companies that operate locally.

Our members are already leading the way in resolving orphaned wells around the United States through existing state programs. We are ready to partner with federal lawmakers in completing this vital task.

One example of these companies is A-Plus Well Services based in Farmington. A-Plus employs 62 people, 70% of which are Latino or Native American. Their workforce includes recent immigrants and first-generation Americans. Many of their employees don’t have high school degrees but earn $60,000 to $80,000 a year.

A-Plus works in Colorado and New Mexico, plugging orphaned wells through the states’ programs. A-Plus’ owner, Randy Pacheco, says he could quickly expand his plugging operations and hire new employees if federal money is used to bolster existing state programs.

A-Plus is not unique. The average salary in the OFS sector is $100,561. For the people with the expertise and experience to plug orphaned wells, the average is $80,860. Like A-Plus, hundreds of well servicing companies are ready to expand, to bring back workers laid off during the pandemic, and to create new jobs all over the country.

Over the past year, our sector lost 86,000 jobs. These men and women have the experience, skills and expertise to begin remediating wells once funding is available. Putting them back to work will benefit the environment and their communities.

We believe legislation should meet a three-part test. First, it should be bipartisan. Second, federal money should encourage new states to participate and expand the existing state programs. Third, the program should be funded to address the true scope of the problem.

The good news is there’s a clear bipartisan consensus to address this problem. Democrats and Republicans have proposed legislation, including Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez and Sens. Ben Ray Luján and Kevin Cramer. While their approaches must be harmonized, a bipartisan beginning is a great start in these politically polarized times.

More good news: Many states have robust plugging systems in place. They simply need more funding to address the scale of this problem. Rather than delaying remediation by creating a new federal program, let’s leverage existing state programs without adding complex federal mandates.

The bipartisan proposals form the basis for an excellent federal initiative that will put energy workers back to work and provide the American people with a cleaner environment. We look forward to working collaboratively with all interested parties on a workable solution.

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