Railroad Commissioners Announce Oilfield Cleanup Program Protects Texas Environment


AUSTIN ––The three Railroad Commissioners announced today that plugging operations have been finalized this month on three abandoned oil and gas wells located in the East Lake area of the Willacy County section of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

The Railroad Commission—the state’s regulator of the oil and gas industry— completed plugging of the wells, which were located on islands in the middle of La Sal Vieja Lake, northwest of Raymondville.

Unplugged abandoned and inactive wells may pose an environmental threat by acting as conduits bringing oil and gas from below ground into groundwater or to the surface. Proper well plugging eliminates this threat.

Chairman Elizabeth Ames Jones said, “Our agency uses industry fees from the Oilfield Cleanup Fund to plug more than 1,000 abandoned wells each year. The Commission’s plugging program for these old wells is an important part of our mission to protect the environment, especially when these wells are found in environmentally sensitive areas such as this wildlife refuge.”

Commissioner David Porter said, “Due to the location of these three wells, this was an unusual plugging operation for the Commission. Marsh buggies, which can travel on land or water, were required to haul plugging equipment to the wells. Commission staff have been successfully plugging abandoned wells for over 20 years using funding provided by the oil and gas industry. With more than 28,000 wells plugged and 4,000 abandoned sites cleaned up, the agency has experience to handle all types of orphaned wells, including locations in sensitive environmental areas requiring specialized equipment like this.”

Commissioner Barry T. Smitherman said, “I am pleased that we could complete plugging operations and ensure these 1960s circa wells will no longer pose any potential environmental threats to this unique and special area.”

Plugging operations at La Sal Vieja Lake began on June 2 and were completed July 5, costing $1,189,034. The majority of operators in Texas plug their own inactive wells. So far, year-to-date in Fiscal Year 2011 through June, operators have plugged 4,692 wells . The Commission funds the plugging of abandoned wells with industry fees paid into the Oilfield Cleanup Fund, created in 1991. Since Fiscal Year 1992, the Commission has plugged more than 28,024 abandoned wells at a cost of $172 million.