Celebrating Cleanup: 88th Legislature Allocates Funds for Plugging Leaking Water Wells in Pecos CountyPress Release

Laredo, TXWith the 88th Legislative Session coming to a close, lawmakers have created a new “Leaking Water Wells Grant Program” with the passage of House Bill 4256 (Murr). About a dozen wells in Pecos County are expected to qualify for plugging with the grant funds. The program will be funded with $10 million from the General Revenue Fund.

Pecos County has made headlines due to risks that are posed to drinking water resources from failing wells that were permitted by the Railroad Commission (RRC). The state’s oil and gas agency allows oil and gas wells to be conveyed to landowners as water wells; the modern form used to convey the wells is called Form P-13. A massive sinkhole with a diameter the length of 5 football-fields on FM 1053 and a 60-acre saltwater lake called Boehmer Lake were formed from failed “P-13’d” wells. These disaster sites are expected to be too expensive to plug and cleanup with the new Leaking Water Wells Grant Program.

Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District (MPGCD) General Manager Ty Edwards said the district could use the new funds to cleanup some problem wells in the county, but that “the Boehmer Lake and FM 1053 wells are under the jurisdiction of the Railroad Commission, and they should use orphaned well funds to cleanup those sites.” MPGCD recently filed a formal complaint with the RRC (Case number 00013093) requesting a hearing and asking the RRC to plug and remediate 12 P-13’d wells using Texas’s Oil and Gas Regulation and Cleanup Fund and funds received for orphaned well plugging under the United States Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The legislature’s new Leaking Water Wells Grant Program, created within the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), will require the TCEQ to use well plugging contractors on the RRC’s list of approved well-pluggers and to consult with the RRC to establish criteria for ensuring that a well is permanently plugged. 

At the close of the session, concerning CCUS legislation dead for now, and Railroad Commission reform still ahead

While some of the proposals Commission Shift favored at the legislature did not make it through to become law, other proposals we thought would be harmful were either watered down or died (at least for now). 

For example, SB 2107 (Nichols) would have allowed for operators to transfer liability of their carbon dioxide injection wells to the state within 10 years of well closure, despite the state lacking rigorous monitoring and enforcement capacity. HB 4557 (Darby) would have significantly limited nuisance claims related to pollution or injuries from carbon dioxide infrastructure related to noneconomic damages, including but not limited to physical pain and suffering, disfigurement, or physical impairment.

Our favorite bills that didn’t get a hearing:

  • HB 3839 (Goodwin | Walle) – Would have required oil, gas, and injection well operators to put money into a sinking trust fund up to the total expected cost of decommissioning the well. The operators would be able to use the funds to pay for their own plugging and cleanup at the well’s end of life, or the RRC could use the funds for plugging and cleanup if the operator orphans the well. This would create a system where operators are always responsible for plugging and cleanup -not taxpayers- and would prevent the creation of more orphaned wells.
  • HB 3840 (Goodwin | Walle) – Would have reduced the number of inactive well plugging extensions the RRC is allowed to give operators to no more than five years, with a two-year grace period allowed for operators who have already had five years of plugging extensions to come into compliance.

Although our favorite bills didn’t move forward, we were able to play a role educating legislative staff about orphaned wells and CCUS alongside our 501(c)(4) sister organization Commission Shift Action. We look forward to continuing to educate lawmakers during the legislative interim and encouraging impacted community members to share their stories with their elected officials. As we look ahead to future legislative plans, we look forward to bringing more Texans into our movement, and making sure lawmakers and the Railroad Commission hear their voices as we fight for better oil and gas oversight in Texas.

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