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Oil And Gas Cleanup Could Cost Taxpayers Billions, Says New Report

Oil Well
Amy R. Sisk
Montana Public Radio
A new report says it could cost taxpayers more than six billion dollars to clean up all the wells on U.S. federal land.

The vast majority of the nation’s oil and gas wells are located here in Mountain West. But a new report says once those wells run dry it could cost taxpayers billions of dollars to clean them up.

“This is a huge red flag,” says Aaron Weiss with the Center for Western Priorities.

The conservation group says it would cost taxpayers more than six billion dollars to clean up all the wells on federal land.

That’s because, according to the report, the cost of clean up has risen over the past six decades.

But at the same time,  the price the U.S. government charges companies to pay for that clean up has remained the same.

“It creates an incentive for these oil and gas companies to just be irresponsible knowing that taxpayers will have to clean up their mess," Weiss says.

“Well, I think they’re just out to generate a little bit of fear,” says Alan Olson, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association. “You probably could say that to plug every well in the United States we’re looking at billions of dollars but that’s not the case because we’re not going to plug every well in the United States.”

Olson adds there are also other revenue sources, such as state funds, to help pay for clean-up.

But the Center for Western Priorities says state funds don’t always pony up for federal wells.   

If wells aren’t cleaned up they can poison groundwater or even leech gas, leading to explosions.