The $23 billion question: What created California’s orphan and idle well crisis and how to solve it

A oil rig in a field.

California is facing an urgent climate and public health crisis: 41,568 oil wells currently sit orphan or idle, leaking methane and volatile organic compounds into the air, water, and soils in our communities. These wells are overwhelmingly located in rural and predominantly Latino counties with household incomes that are far lower than the state average.

The operators of these wells frequently attempt to delay or evade responsibility for cleaning up their wells entirely, despite enjoying extreme profits from extracting California’s natural resources for almost a century. Three oil companies- Chevron, Aera Energy, and California Resources Corporation- are responsible for 68% of the state's current idle wells.

A new Sierra Club report shows that these companies have more than enough money to pay to clean up their mess, and we present policy recommendations on how the state can ensure these costs don’t fall on taxpayers. “The $23 billion question: What created California’s orphan and idle well crisis” also shows that plugging these wells can catalyze economic revitalization through the creation of tens of thousands of jobs.

Read the Report

California needs to hold oil companies accountable for cleaning up and capping these wells as quickly as possible. Immediate policy action is needed from the state legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom to close industry loopholes and mandate an urgent timetable for plugging these wells.

If California fails to act, billions of our tax dollars will have to foot the bill for a mess created by hugely profitable multinational corporations, and our neighborhoods will suffer chronic, life threatening health impacts of continued inaction.

Take action! Fight for California Idle Wells to be Cleaned Up.