Government Watchdog Raises Alarm About Inadequate Decommissioning of Oil & Gas Pipelines and Offshore Infrastructure in Two New Reports

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan government watchdog agency, released two new reports highlighting insufficiencies in the decommissioning of both onshore oil and gas pipelines and offshore drilling infrastructure. Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who requested both reports, and was joined by Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) on the offshore infrastructure report, issued the following statement on the reports’ release:

“Big Oil’s deadly legacy isn’t limited to the climate crisis—leaks, explosions, and toxic emissions from fossil fuel infrastructure have been putting nearby communities and environments in harm’s way for decades,” said Ranking Member Grijalva. “And as these two new reports point out, allowing fossil fuel companies to skirt their decommissioning responsibilities extends the dangers posed by oil and gas pipelines and offshore drilling equipment well beyond the time this infrastructure is actually in use.

“With their record breaking profits, it’s unconscionable that Big Oil would continue to cut corners and abandon their own equipment, leaving American taxpayers with the environmental, safety, and financial liabilities. The need for increased bonding requirements couldn’t be clearer, so I’m heartened to know that, together with the Biden administration, we are making progress on that front. I also urge Interior and the Forest Service to follow the recommendations in these two reports to strengthen their oversight and enforcement of the industry’s decommissioning responsibilities. It’s clearer than ever that Big Oil can’t be trusted to act in good faith on their own.”

Full Reports and Highlights

FULL ONSHORE GAO REPORT: Oil and Gas Pipelines: Agencies Should Improve Oversight of Decommissioning

There are more than 384,000 miles of onshore gathering pipelines carrying natural gas, crude oil, and other hazardous liquids across the United States. This report examined issues related to the decommissioning of gathering lines on public lands.

The report found that 1) improper or delayed decommissioning poses significant safety and environmental risks; 2) federal agency data and oversight of decommissioning is lacking; and 3) inadequate oversight can result in orphaned gathering lines, leaving the cost of decommissioning to American taxpayers. In addition, the report pointed out that insufficient bonding requirements allow oil and gas companies to neglect their decommissioning responsibilities.

In light of these findings, GAO recommends that public lands management agencies develop plans to improve data collection and oversight, further specify decommissioning timing requirements in some cases, and identify gathering lines presenting the greatest safety, environmental, or fiscal risks.

FULL OFFSHORE GAO REPORT: Offshore Oil and Gas: Interior Needs to Improve Decommissioning Enforcement and Mitigate Related Risks

The oil and gas industry has installed more than 55,000 offshore wells and 7,000 offshore platforms on the outer continental shelf, mostly in the Gulf. This report examined the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) oversight of the decommissioning of this infrastructure.

The report found that 1) delayed decommissioning increases environmental, safety, and financial risks; 2) the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is not adequately enforcing oil and gas companies’ compliance with decommissioning, leading to widespread decommissioning delays; and 3) the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is not adequately assuring companies’ financial capacity for decommissioning, exposing American taxpayers to substantial financial liability.

Among other changes, GAO recommends that BSEE strengthen its oversight and enforcement of decommissioning deadlines and that BOEM implement changes to its financial assurance regulations, including higher levels of supplemental bonding.

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