Hickenlooper signs executive order to address orphan wells 

DENVER -- Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at addressing the growing orphan well crisis in the state.

An orphan well is generally considered to be an oil and gas site which has been abandoned by an operator. Often times, the location is not properly reclaimed and cleaned, leaving the state with the important responsibility.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers first reported on the growing problem earlier this year with an in-depth investigation.

According to the Problem Solvers report, there are more than 250 known orphaned wells in Colorado and that some officials fear they may be more.

Hickenlooper’s executive order directs abandoned sites to be cleaned up by 2023 and the use of $5 million in new money from the General Assembly.

It also orders state regulators to suggest new laws to better handle the problem.

While the 2017 Firestone tragedy that killed two was not caused by an orphan well, Hickenlooper said Wednesday the event prompted the entire state to evaluate potential threats to the public.

“We are going to have zero tolerance,” Hickenlooper said. “We wanted to make sure we addressed all the issues, and again, it was a great motivator,” Hickenlooper said.

Concerned people in the oil and gas industry agreed with the move. However, many emphasized how the order does not increase the bonds operators need to pay to the state to start operating.

The bond amounts are considered low by many standards, encouraging companies to walk away if the fines are high.

“As taxpayers, we shouldn’t be cleaning up what an industry has left behind,” said Beth Ewaskowitz, an Erie resident.

Hickenlooper agreed insurance bonds need to be higher.

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