Close California’s Dangerous Inactive Oil Wells

California has approximately 70,000 inactive and soon-to-be inactive oil and gas wells that endanger public health and safety while producing little to no oil.

You can help close them.

Take Action

California has approximately 70,000 inactive and soon-to-be inactive oil and gas wells that endanger public health and safety while producing little to no oil.

You can help close them.

Take Action

What’s at Stake

Across California, fossil fuel companies are leaving tens of thousands of toxic oil and gas wells unplugged and idle, potentially harming the health of people living nearby, polluting our water and air, and burdening taxpayers with multibillion-dollar cleanup costs.
With the oil industry in decline and companies facing bankruptcy, we must ensure the fossil fuel industry fulfills its legal obligation to safely and properly clean up all active and inactive oil and gas wells without the burdens falling on taxpayers.
Now is the time to create thousands of jobs cleaning up toxic idle well sites and jump start a just and equitable transition off of fossil fuel production by ending permits for new oil and gas wells to protect our climate and public health. 

Safely closing all orphan, idle, and marginal wells in California will create more than 18,500 jobs over a five-year just transition period. A just transition will employ workers in an industry that is currently shedding jobs, and will help build the clean energy economy of tomorrow by reducing pollution and expanding opportunity for all.

Taxpayer money

As oil companies fail, taxpayers could be left holding the bill. It will cost nearly $6 billion to clean up California’s onshore oil and gas wells that are inactive (“idle”) and soon-to-be inactive (“marginal”), according to the California Council on Science and Technology. Yet, oil companies have given the state less than $80 million for clean up.

California Resources Corporation (CRC), California’s largest oil and gas producer with 18,000 wells, filed for bankruptcy on in July 2020. The company has outstanding liabilities of a nearly one billion dollars in well-closure costs and obligations, $5.2 billion in unpaid loans, and pension and health care

Public health and safety

Air pollution from fossil fuel production and burning already kills 12,000 Californians and costs $100 billion dollars per year. People living near oil and gas sites suffer higher rates of cancer, asthma, hospitalization, respiratory harms, and rashes, birth defects, premature births and high-risk pregnancies, and underweight babies.

Clean air, water, land

Idle wells can leak air pollutants or allow toxic substances to migrate into groundwater or flow up to the surface. The risk increases the longer wells are left unattended.

Environmental racism

Harms from oil and gas pollution disproportionately impact people of color and economically disadvantaged communities. Idle wells can emit toxic air pollution if not properly closed. Approximately 58% of idle wells are located in communities with above-average poverty rates and communities of color.

Air pollution is a major contributor to COVID-19 deaths, a primary factor in Black and Latino Americans being more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19.

Climate emergency
California is in a climate emergency created by fossil fuel pollution. Earth’s atmospheric “carbon budget” is far overspent and further fossil fuel extraction will push the climate system closer to catastrophic planetary tipping points. To lead the nation and world, California must immediately end permits for all new fossil fuel projects, including new oil and gas wells.  Furthermore, California must also dramatically cut emissions of methane, a climate superpollutant that heats the planet 87 times more than carbon dioxide over a 20 year timeframe.  Inactive oil and gas wells can release large amounts of methane. California must accelerate proper plugging and clean-up of inactive and near-inactive oil and gas wells.

From Kern County to Los Angeles, companies haven’t set aside anywhere near enough money to ensure these drilling sites are cleaned up and made safe for future generations, according to a months-long data analysis and investigation by the Los Angeles Times and the Center for Public Integrity.

The toxic legacy of old oil wells: California’s multibillion-dollar problem

By Mark Olalde and Ryan Menezes, February 6, 2020

Read article in LA Times

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Scope of the Problem

Interactive map of thousands of idle oil and gas wells in California (ArcGIS)

Oil and Gas Wells in California
Idle or Marginal Wells
Orphaned Wells

Take Action

You can help by working with your city or county officials to take action to close idle wells in your community. Please select if you are a:

Local Government Official or Staff

Work with your city/county staff to:

  1. Send a letter requesting a list of idle wells. In a letter from your city/county to California’s Oil and Gas Supervisor, request confirmation of the list of all idle wells in your jurisdiction within 30 days.  (See “Who is Impacted” for template letters)
  2. Look for a reply. The Oil and Gas Supervisor will respond with an updated list of all idle wells in your jurisdiction.
  3. Send a request for idle wells to be safely closed. Upon receiving the list of idle wells from the state, your city or county can propose a list of priority idle wells and formally request the Oil and Gas Supervisor to make a determination whether these wells should be remediated, plugged, and safely abandoned. 

Please see below for template letters customized to your city or county.

Concerned Resident

Ask your elected officials to work with city or county staff to request the California Oil and Gas Supervisor to require companies to safely remediate and close inactive wells in your community:

  • Policy brief you can share with your city and county elected officials 

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Who is Impacted – Jurisdiction Data

Find out how many idle wells are in your jurisdiction and download the template letter that your city or county can send: 

 Search for your county or city name here:

Legal Authority

Under California’s Public Resources Code, cities and counties may formally request CalGEM to order companies to remediate idle wells. 

Read the Code (CRC § 3206.5):

Public Resources Code | Division 3. Oil and Gas | Chapter 1. Oil and Gas Conservation | Article 4. Regulation of Operations | § 3206.5.

(a) Any city or county may request from the supervisor a list of all idle wells, as defined in subdivision (d) of Section 3008, within its jurisdiction.

(b) After receiving the list from the supervisor, the city or county may identify idle wells identified pursuant to subdivision (a) within its jurisdiction which it has determined, based on a competent, professional evaluation, have no reasonable expectation of being reactivated, and formally request the supervisor to make a determination whether the wells should be plugged and abandoned.

(c) Upon receiving the written request of a city or county, as specified in subdivision (b):

    (1) The supervisor may, within 60 days of receiving a written request from a city or county, require the operator or operators to file a statement for each well outlining those reasons why the wells should not be plugged and abandoned.

    (2) The supervisor shall, within 120 days of receiving a written request, make a determination as to whether any of these wells should be plugged and abandoned, pursuant to the criteria contained in this chapter.

(d) Failure of the operator to file, for any well, the statement required under this section shall be conclusive evidence of desertion of the well, thereby permitting the supervisor to order the well abandoned.

(Amended by Stats. 2017, Ch. 652, Sec. 3. (SB 724) Effective January 1, 2018.)

For the complete code, see: California Resources Code, Section 3206.5:

For More Information

Download the Policy Brief for Local Governments

Download the report “The Risk of Unplugged Wells for California’s Taxpayers: California Resources Corporation—A Case Study”

Request a call here: Contact Us

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