By James Osborne
January 10, 2024
Header image: An old oil well leaks salt water and oil on Antina Ranch near Monahans. Elizabeth Conley/Staff photographer
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Between 2016 and 2021, the Railroad Commission plugged 1,661 wells a year on average. Now federal funding has started flowing, state officials are projecting that number to rise to 2,000 this year and 2,200 next. But more than half of those wells are being paid for with federal money, meaning 600 fewer wells will be paid for with state funding each year.
State budget data shows state funding for orphaned well plugging rising steadily between 2016 and 2021 to almost $72 million per year. But that funding, which is collected through fees on oil and gas companies, has declined since then, with the commission requesting only $63 million per year for 2024 and 2025.
“They could have put way more money into plugging, and they chose to decrease funding,” said Virginia Palacios, executive director of Commission Shift. “The commission talks about getting it down to a manageable number near zero, but I don’t see how it’s possible.”