Assemblymember Chris Holden reintroduced legislation that requires operators of idle and abandoned oil and gas wells to report hydrocarbon emissions found during the well plugging process. Assembly Bill 1328 also requires results from these tested oil and gas wells to be collected and publicly reported by the Department of Conservation.
“We need to know how much and how often these wells are emitting pollutants in order to protect public health,” said Assemblymember Chris Holden.
There are about 30,000 idle or abandoned oil wells in California. In Los Angeles, a recent report by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health examined LA County’s 1,850 inactive oil wells and found that many old wells were improperly abandoned in the past, or left idle. Oil and gas pollution released in communities – such as where many of these wells are located – can cause headaches, nosebleeds and nausea, and has been linked to certain types of cancers and birth defects.
A 2018 regulation by the California Department of Conservation will result in thousands of old wells being permanently plugged according to modern standards over the next several years. Although companies performing this work have not been required to check for pollution from old wells before they start the remediation process, most, if not all, already do. Further, there are no requirements for these companies, or the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources to report what they find.
For example, in 2016, two abandoned wells in Echo Park near Los Angeles were found leaking compounds in a densely populated disadvantaged community, forcing lengthy evacuations and exposures. Similarly, in January 2019, during a well remediation job, an old oil well experienced a release in Marina Del Rey near Los Angeles, another densely populated neighborhood.
“Companies across California will be plugging thousands of old oil and gas wells over the next decade – it only makes sense for emissions reporting to be part of this process. Access to pollution data is critical for California to understand the progress we’re making today to reduce emissions, and to prioritize where we can make even more progress reducing pollution in the future,” Tim O’Connor, Senior Director, Environmental Defense Fund.
Some peer-reviewed research is available on the amount of emissions from idle and abandoned wells, but current research is limited and primarily available for sites outside California – meaning California is unable to accurately quantify the public health, air quality and climate benefits from its remediation actions.
“Assembly Bill 1328 will help solve a critical knowledge gap associated with aging oil and gas infrastructure in California,” said Holden.