House passes bill to study effects of abandoned oil wells in bipartisan vote

The House passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) on Tuesday that aims to address environmental hazards from abandoned gas and oil wells. The legislation passed in a 333-75 vote.

The bill — the Abandoned Wells, Remediation, Research and Development Act — would direct the Energy Department to develop a research and development program for abandoned wells. Pennsylvania has the second largest amount of abandoned and orphaned wells of any state, surpassed only by Texas. Some 27,000 abandoned wells have been documented across the Keystone State.

The measure, co-sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.), previously passed the House Science Committee in a unanimous vote last July.

Abandoned wells have been linked to the release of toxic air pollutants and carcinogens, including methane and benzene. They have also been linked to drops in property values and, due to historical practices of “redlining” in minority neighborhoods, disproportionately hurt the health of people of color.

“Until Congress takes action to invest in the identification and remediation of abandoned wells starting with the House passage of my bipartisan bill, tens of thousands of people in my district and across Pennsylvania will continue to be exposed to toxins in their air and explosive gasses, and lower property values,” Lee said in a statement.

Lee’s office highlighted that the measure is the first she has sponsored that has passed the full House since she took office in 2023. It comes the week after she won the Democratic primary for her seat by 20 points, a closely watched contest that marked the first involving a member of the progressive “Squad” of House Democrats this cycle.

Environmental groups praised the bill’s provisions and urged the Senate to take it up as soon as possible.

“Orphaned oil and gas wells threaten public health and safety, the water we drink and the climate,” Adam Peltz, director and senior attorney for energy transition at the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “This essential bipartisan bill will fund the research necessary to improve well plugging practices, find unregistered orphan wells in hard-to-reach places like streams, forests, farmland and backyards, and develop beneficial clean energy uses for end-of-life wells.”

“This bill will create jobs and benefit public health, particularly for communities overburdened by legacy oil and gas development — and now the Senate should take up this bill so that President Biden can sign it into law,” Peltz added.

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