Press Room

New Legislation Would Protect Public Input and Hold Oil and Gas Drillers Accountable

Two bills introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) increase accountability for oil and gas companies that walk away from their wells and ensure public oversight.

WASHINGTON – “Sen. Bennet’s bills address what has become an emergency across the nation,” said Nada Culver, Vice President of Public Lands and Senior Counsel for the National Audubon Society. “Thousands of orphaned drill sites risk birds and other wildlife, while polluting the air and water, yet we cannot hold the corporations that profited from that oil and gas accountable.”

The Onshore Oil and Gas Orphaned Well Remediation and Reclamation Bonding Reform Act and the Public Engagement Opportunity on Public Lands Exploration (PEOPLE) Act of 2020, introduced today, are focused on cleaning up wells that have been left on lands across the country, increasing industry accountability for drilling on public lands and protecting public input in lease sales.

The federal government has failed to update the way we lease public lands to oil and gas companies for decades, in some cases since the middle of last century. Recently, the Trump administration has made changes to the federal oil and gas leasing process that cut out the public altogether. These bills will make sure the companies that leave and don’t clean up their drill sites are held accountable, and that the public’s voice in this process is protected.

“It should be easier for the public to be informed and weigh in before public lands are turned over to oil and gas companies, and harder for companies to walk away with pocketsful of profit while leaving us to deal with the mess they leave behind,” added Culver. “These bills will help put people back to work restoring public lands, protect the public’s say in how they are managed, and restore personal responsibility among the corporations making money from them.”

While many drillers act responsibly, oil and gas companies walking away without cleaning up oil and gas wells on our public lands is a major problem that costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Recent reports show that the downturn in market price for oil and gas has led to thousands of newly orphaned drill sites.

The Onshore Oil and Gas Orphaned Well Remediation and Reclamation Bonding Reform Act will create a fund to reclaim orphaned wells on federal, state and private lands, including by enabling states to distribute those funds, and will also update federal bonding rates that have not been updated for 60 years. The bill will create jobs and ensure we do not continue to create more of the same problems.

The Public Engagement Opportunity on Public Lands Exploration (PEOPLE) Act would permanently establish requirements for public notice and participation in oil and gas lease sales and development, with specific protections for surface owners and requirements to engage other federal agencies and local governments. The legislation would ensure that no presidential administration can restrict public input and preserve the opportunity for other agencies that manage the surface to object to leasing.

Click here to read more about the bills and hear what other conservation groups are saying about them.

###

Media Contact: Matt Smelser, matt.smelser@audubon.org, 512.739.9635

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need —today and tomorrow —throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more how to help at www.audubon.org and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @audubonsociety.

“The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of Audubon. Audubon does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.”