October 2021

OPINION: The bipartisan REGROW Act is a good way to improve the environment and create high-paying jobs

As Congress attempts to navigate multiple legislative priorities in a significantly partisan atmosphere, it’s important to remember there are areas where broad agreement can be found.
Tim Tarpley / Energy Workforce & Technology Council

As Congress attempts to navigate multiple legislative priorities in a significantly partisan atmosphere, it’s important to remember there are areas where broad agreement can be found. For example, funding programs to plug and remediate orphaned oil and gas wells that are leaking greenhouse gases is an initiative with bipartisan support and industry backing.

This project would staunch greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.5 million cars per year while creating thousands of jobs in the nation’s energy services and technology sector.

Addressing orphan wells. The member companies of my organization, the Energy Workforce & Technology Council, provide the world with energy in the most safe, efficient, clean and responsible way possible. Our sector is leading the development of technology that will drive the energy transition. The Council represents 450 companies that employ more than 600,000 energy workers, manufacturers and innovators. Our membership includes large oilfield service companies with operations all over the world, energy technology companies, equipment manufacturers and small family-owned well servicing companies that operate locally.

Our members are leading the way in resolving the critical issue of orphaned wells around the U.S. through existing state programs. We are ready to partner with federal lawmakers in completing this vital task.

An example firm. One example of these companies is A Plus Well Services, based in Farmington, N.M. A Plus employs 62 people, 70% of which are from Latino and Native American populations. Their workforce includes recent immigrants and first-generation Americans. Many of their employees do not have high school degrees but earn $60,000 to $80,000 a year.

A Plus currently works in Colorado and New Mexico, plugging orphaned wells through those states’ existing programs. The company’s owner, Randy Pacheco, is confident he could quickly expand his plugging operations by hiring new employees in well-paid jobs, if Congress approves the funding to bolster existing state programs.

Putting people back to work. There are many companies like A Plus around the nation. The average salary in the energy services sector is over $100,000. For people with the expertise and experience to plug these orphaned wells, the average is $81,000. Like A Plus, hundreds of well servicing companies are ready to create new jobs all over the country and are excited to bring back workers who had to be laid off during the pandemic.

The energy services sector has been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19-related demand decrease that set off a dramatic and abrupt slowdown of energy production in the United States. While the industry has always had its up and downs, this downturn was especially hard. The sector is still down more than 67,000 jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. The men and women who lost their jobs have the experience, skills and expertise to quickly begin remediating these wells once funding is available. Putting these men and woman back to work will benefit the environment and the economies of the communities where they live. 

Proactive legislation. When it comes to federal efforts to address this issue, we believe legislation should follow the provisions of the REGROW Act of 2021, which was included in the bipartisan infrastructure package. This bill would distribute money to successfully run state plugging programs already in operation and encourage other states to create programs. Importantly, the REGROW Act would provide adequate funding to address the true scope of the orphan well problem.  

The good news is there’s a clear bipartisan consensus that we need to address this problem. Democrats and Republicans have proposed legislation, including Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM-3), and Senators Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND). Bipartisan consensus is a great start in these politically polarized times.

Another piece of good news: many states have robust plugging systems in place. They simply need more funding to address the scale of this problem. Rather than delaying remediation work by creating a new federal program, it makes sense to add federal money to leverage existing state programs without adding complex federal mandates. The quicker we get money to the states, the quicker we can get people into the field plugging wells. 

The bipartisan REGROW Act forms the basis for an excellent federal initiative that will put energy workers back to work and provide the American people with a cleaner environment. The men and women of the energy services sector stand ready to get back to work and support this project. 



About the Authors
Tim Tarpley
Energy Workforce & Technology Council
Tim Tarpley Tim Tarpley is the SVP of Government Affairs at the Energy Workforce & Technology Council.
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