NEWS: House Passes Summer Lee’s Bipartisan Abandoned Wells Remediation, Research, and Development Act with Overwhelming Support  

**For Immediate Release**

Emilia Rowland, Emilia.Rowland@mail.house.gov – 330.212.2065

NEWS: House Passes Summer Lee’s Bipartisan Abandoned Wells Remediation, Research, and Development Act with Overwhelming Support  

After Delivering $1.2 Billion in Federal Investments for Western PA, Freshman Lawmaker’s Success at Passing Bipartisan Legislation During her First Term Despite Republican Chaos Marks Major Win for Pennsylvanians and the Environmental Justice Movement – Signaling Progressive Power 

Washington, DC — Today, U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to pass Congresswoman Summer Lee’s (D-PA-12) Abandoned bipartisan Abandoned Wells Remediation, Research and Development Act [Bill Text] – legislation co-led by Oklahoma Republican Congresswoman Stephanie Bice directing the Department of Energy to carry out a research, development and demonstration program on abandoned wells. With 27,000 documented abandoned oil and gas wells and an additional 350,000 that have yet to be identified across Pennsylvania (the most of any state but Texas), this legislation will address an issue of major concern shared among Democrats, Independents and Republicans across the battleground state by helping dedicating resources to identifying and plugging abandoned wells efficiently and cost-effectively to protect the health and property of tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians while creating good paying jobs. 

Lee’s legislation – which the House Science Space and Technology Committee passed on a unanimous bipartisan basis last July – is Lee’s first bill passed by the full House of Representatives, proving her bona fides as a bipartisan dealmaker and further solidifying her position as one of the most productive freshman in one of the least productive sessions of Congress in American history. During her first term, Lee, who just won her primary by 20 points including overwhelming margins in deep red exurban areas like Westmoreland county, delivered more than $1.2 billion federal investments for Western PA (including $44 million to cut methane emissions from wells) and was one of just 7 Democrats with perfect attendance and has never missed a single vote out of all 870 votes. In December, Lee was one of five members of the House and Senate to receive the ‘Climate Change Maker’ Award for her leadership on climate and environmental justice.

Click here or below to view Lee’s remarks ahead on the impact her bill will have on the lives of Pennsylvanians.

Click here for bill Text. A full transcript of Lee’s remarks can be found at the bottom of this release.

Congresswoman Lee said, “Last month, I visited the home of Pamela and Ivan Schrank, a couple in Murrysville who recently discovered a leaky abandoned well on their property in Westmoreland County. During my visit, Pamela described how she got dizzy and almost fainted while gardening in her backyard after being exposed to a pungent odor she recognized as gas. Fortunately, she and her husband Ivan caught the leakage in time to reach out to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to begin the process of plugging the well and preventing permanent harm to their family’s health and the value of their property. I’m so glad that the House passed my bipartisan bill to invest in the identification and remediation of abandoned wells. The Senate must now bring the bill to the floor to protect hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians and millions of Americans from currently exposed toxins in their air and water, explosive gasses, and lower property values.”

“While active wells support hundreds of thousands of jobs, legacy sites and abandoned wells can present environmental and economic problems,” said Congresswoman Bice, this bill’s primary Republican sponsor. “H.R. 4877 authorizes the Department of Energy to work to improve the data on the location of abandoned wells; the processes for plugging, reclaiming, and repurposing wells; and the ability to mitigate potential environmental impacts of leaking wells. This legislation will close the innovation gap and ultimately save federal dollars.”

In March, Lee led leaders from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) to visit the site of a recently identified abandoned well on the property of Murrysville homeowners Pamela and Ivan Schrank that is poised to receive funding for remediation from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. During the visit, Lee discussed her work in Congress and in partnership with the Shapiro administration to deliver federal investments that protect Western Pennsylvanians’ health, property, and tax dollars from abandoned wells in addition to working to pass the legislation up for vote by the full House today. Photos from the event can be found here

Westmoreland homeowner Pamala Schrank said, “I discovered the abandoned well when one day, I got so dizzy I almost fainted. I panicked and ran inside and called the gas company. They cam right away, but said ‘this doesn’t belong to us’ and told me to call the municipality. So I called Murrysville, who then told me the well had been abandoned and I had to go to DEP. I’m glad the House is passing Congresswoman Lee’s bill to provide federal resources to better to identify and plug abandoned wells like the one on my property to protect families like mine against exposure to dangerous toxins and lower property value.”

Abandoned and orphaned wells present a danger to people and the environment, and there are upwards of 350,000 in Pennsylvania. They can leak methane into the atmosphere and contaminate groundwater and streams,” said Acting Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Jessica Shirley. “We appreciate this bipartisan effort to address finding and plugging these wells and protecting the health and environment of Pennsylvanians.”

“We cannot and should not accept the fact that leaky oil and gas wells from the 1800s are poisoning our communities. We must invest significant resources to research and develop solutions to this crisis–because it is still nearly impossible to track every abandoned well, and it is still too expensive to plug leaking wells” said Rep. Summer Lee as the House debated her bill today. “This bipartisan bill we’ve introduced authorizes a research, development, and demonstration program at the Department of Energy to locate, identify, and confront the problems associated with abandoned oil and gas wells. This program will bolster our ability to locate these wells, and direct research towards improving remediation, plugging, and understanding what causes some of these wells to become ‘super-emitters’ – posing the most harm to our climate.”

“For far too long, abandoned wells have been leaking toxic chemicals and methane into our air, water, and landsputting wildlife, drinking water, and communities at risk. Thanks to the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, $5 billion has been invested to plug orphaned oil and gas wells. Rep. Summer Lee’s bill will build on this work by finding additional wells to plug, reducing reclamation costs, and proposing alternative uses for abandoned wells. We commend the U.S. House of Representatives for passing this legislation, which is good news for wildlife and people alike,” Said David Willms, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation.

Background: 

The problem facing Western Pennsylvanians: 

  • Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection says there are tens of thousands of abandoned gas wells and oil wells documented across the state — and there may be 13 times that many for which there are no records.
  • Federal money helped Pennsylvania plug 139 abandoned oil and gas wells last year. That’s more than in the eight years before that. Despite the state awarding more than $23 million in contracts to plug those wells in 2023, the number of abandoned wells continues to grow.
  • DEP estimates that there are 27,000 abandoned wells for which they have locations to plug. They estimate an approximately 350,000 additional undocumented abandoned wells exist all across Pennsylvania. 
  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that methane emissions from over 2 million inactive, unplugged wells, of which documented orphan wells are a subset, range from a CO2 equivalent of 7-20 million metric tons per year (approximately the emissions of 2 to 5 million cars).
  • Methane emissions from oil and gas wells – some of which date back as early as the 1850s including orphan wells, remains a significant driver of short-term climate change. [EDF]At least 25% of today’s warming is driven by methane emissions from human activities.
  • EDF has also calculated that approximately 14 million Americans live within a mile of a documented orphan well, which has no solvent owner of record, can leak oil, gas and other toxic chemicals into our air and water.
  • In addition to methane, abandoned wells release carcinogens and other toxic air contaminants spewing from millions of wells that are no longer even operating. In a study in the journal ACS Omega, researchers have reported the discovery of harmful cancer-causing benzene and other toxic gases leaking from 48 abandoned wells in Western Pennsylvania
  • Abandoned wells also lower property values and land productivity, with one study in Pennsylvania showing a 50% drop-off in building development in areas with high orphan well concentration.
  • The health and economic impact of abandoned wells fall disproportionately on low income and minority communities – impacting Black and brown communities at twice the rate

Solutions Congresswoman Lee is working to deliver:

Throughout her first term in office Lee has been pushing to expedite federal funding under the Infrastructure and Jobs Act to go to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s work plugging abandoned wells in Western PA. This mapshows a total of 120,000 documented orphan wells across 30 states that are eligible for closure funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. 

In December, Rep. Lee announced $44,457,220 in federal funding to support industry efforts to cut methane emissions from wells and support environmental restoration of well sites

  • Rep. Lee said “I’m so proud to deliver over $44M in funding to cut methane emissions in my district. In regions like Western Pennsylvania, where the legacy of oil and gas extraction is deeply felt, this investment is not just about reducing emissions; it’s about justice and health for our communities. This funding will accelerate efforts to measure, monitor, and mitigate methane from nonfederal wells, which is crucial for protecting both the environment and public health. As we’ve seen in our communities, unchecked methane emissions contribute to climate change and pose serious health risks, especially in marginalized areas. This is a big step towards correcting historical neglect and ensuring a cleaner, healthier future for all.”
  • Ryan Peay, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Resource Sustainability in DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management said, “Investing in projects and programs that significantly reduce methane emissions is an important priority to slow the harmful effects of climate change. The grants awarded today facilitate critical partnerships between states and the oil and gas sector, addressing a key source of these emissions while generating substantial climate, health, and economic benefits for local communities nationwide.”

In July, Rep. Lee introduced the Bipartisan Abandoned Well Remediation Research and Development Act with Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK-12) to address the impact of methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells.  Her bill passed through the Committee on Science, Space and Technology in September on a bipartisan unanimous basis.

  • Lee’s bill addresses challenges around the difficulty of the plugging and remediation process – from locating undocumented wells, minimal understanding of methane emission rates, and cost barriers. Lee’s bill will amend the Energy Act of 2005 to create an abandoned wells research, development, and demonstration program at the Department of Energy (DOE) with respect to abandoned wells. It directs the Secretary of DOE to create and carry out this program to focus on a range of key technology areas to better identify abandoned wells, understand methane emission rates, low carbon lightweight cement, technology to improve remote plugging, ways to repurpose wells for geothermal power and technology to understand impacts of abandoned wells on groundwater.
  • Congresswoman Lee said, “Where I grew up in Braddock, our air is already so dirty that we have some of the highest rates of pollution causing childhood asthma and respiratory illnesses in this country. Folks in communities left behind like Western PA simply cannot afford toxic methane from abandoned oil and gas wells leaking into our air and water–yet oil and gas companies are abandoning wells far, far faster than we’re able to plug or even identify them. On top of the harm to the health of our loved ones, abandoned wells, which just so happen to impact Black and brown communities at twice the ratealso mean lower property values and land productivity, with one study in Pennsylvania showing a 50% drop-off in building development in areas with high concentrations of abandoned wells. I’m proud to introduce the ‘Bipartisan Abandoned Well R&D Act’ to protect our communities from abandoned oil and gas wells by creating a new research, development, and demonstration program at the Department of Energy.”

Full floor speech

Mr./Madam Speaker, I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

I rise today in support of legislation that I am proud to see pass on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania – the bipartisan Abandoned Well Remediation, Research and Development Act.

Across the country, there are around 3 million abandoned oil and gas wells in urgent need of remediation or plugging. In Pennsylvania, there are well over 350,000 abandoned wells, but only 27,000 of these have been identified and documented in order to be plugged.

These abandoned wells not only contribute to the climate crisis by leaking methane, but they also expose our families to cancer-causing toxins like benzene, leave our homes vulnerable to explosive gasses, and lower property values—making it tougher for families to maintain and sell their homes. Our region’s health and economy suffer while we allow these wells to pollute our communities without accountability or plans to plug them.

Last month, I visited the home of Pamela and Ivan Schrank, a couple in Murrysville who recently discovered a leaky abandoned well on their property in Westmoreland County. During my visit, Pamela described how she got dizzy and almost fainted while gardening in her backyard after being exposed to a pungent odor she recognized as gas. Fortunately, she and her husband Ivan caught the leakage in time to reach out to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to begin the process of plugging the well and preventing permanent harm to their family’s health and the value of their property.

However, until Congress takes action to invest in the identification and remediation of abandoned wells, starting with the passage of my bill, tens of thousands of people in my district and across Pennsylvania will continue to suffer the consequences.

Pennsylvania has more abandoned wells than any other state except Texas. Many of these wells that pollute our communities were drilled in the mid-1800s, decades before regulations existed to properly track and document them.

My district already suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation and serious rates of exposure to toxins in our water. These communities also suffer from high rates of asthma and COPD and exposure to lead in our water.

We cannot leave leaky oil and gas wells from the 1800s to continue poisoning and endangering our communities. We cannot afford inaction. We must invest significant resources to research and develop solutions to this crisis by passing my bipartisan bill—because until we do, it will remain nearly impossible to track every orphaned and abandoned well, and too expensive to plug or remediate them.

This bipartisan bill we’ve introduced builds on the $23 million worth of federal investments to plug abandoned wells we already delivered to Western PA from the Infrastructure Act by authorizing a new research, development, and demonstration program at the Department of Energy to locate, identify, and address the problems associated with abandoned oil and gas wells. This program will enhance our ability to locate these wells and direct research towards improving remediation, plugging, and understanding what causes some of these wells to become “super emitters” – posing the most harm to our health and our climate.

It will also fuel the development of new uses for these wells, such as evaluating whether they are suitable for conversion to geothermal power production.

I want to thank Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Lofgren for supporting this legislation, as well as Rep. Bice for joining me in championing this issue and for bringing this important bipartisan bill to the floor today. The Science Committee has now twice unanimously approved this bill, and I encourage my colleagues to do the same.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I reserve the balance of my time.

Resources:


Since taking office in January, Lee, who serves on the House Oversight Committee and Space, Science and Technology Committee, has delivered historic levels of federal investment totaling over $1.2 Billion brought back to Western PA, including over $200 million for infrastructure, over $50 million for affordable transit, and over $500 million to keep clean energy manufacturing at home in Pennsylvania. These investments will help improve Western Pennsylvania’s infrastructure and transit, ensure cleaner air and drinking water, lower housing costs, fund research institutions, fuel clean manufacturing, fund STEM innovation and entrepreneurship, boost workforce development, and create thousands of good paying union jobs.  Lee and her team have also delivered casework and constituent services to over 2,000 constituents with issues ranging from helping our seniors and disabled community access Medicare and social security to helping folks secure housing and helping families with immigration support and passports.

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