Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order this week requiring that abandoned oil and gas equipment be plugged up or removed.
The move comes about a year after an old natural gas pipeline leaked methane into a home in Firestone, Colorado. The home exploded, killing two people and injuring another.
According to the order, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has until July 2023 to either plug high-priority sites or remove the equipment involved. The Commission will also publish a list of known sites by Aug. 1, to be updated each year.
So-called “orphaned” wells and sites have been abandoned by oil and gas companies and relinquished to the state, sometimes due to the companies going bankrupt.
So far, the state has identified 262 orphaned wells and 373 orphaned sites that require action. On top of that, the executive order points out, “hundreds of undiscovered orphaned wells are located in historic oil and gas fields around the state, such as the Florence and Rangely fields” — not to mention sites that will become orphaned in the future.
“The number of oil and gas operators that have filed for bankruptcy or do not have the funds to operate in compliance with the law continues to increase,” the order reads.
To help fund the efforts, oil and gas operators that voluntarily plug or fix problem sites will be eligible for tax credits.
In a statement, the Colorado Petroleum Council said it “welcome(s)” the Governor’s directive and “look(s) forward” to implementing the regulatory changes. The Colorado Oil & Gas Association also said it was “a positive step.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.