While Fox News is waging its newest propaganda campaign to undermine President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package, one complaint to emerge from the network has dishonestly twisted Biden’s proposal to clean up abandoned oil and gas wells that now do nothing but pollute communities — but in Fox’s telling, this is an attempt to shut down active oil production and take away jobs.
On the one hand, it might be easy to write this off as sheer stupidity and misunderstanding of the issue. But in his speech announcing the proposal, Biden had already spelled out the matter in such unmistakable terms that there simply has to be some willful lying involved on Fox’s part — as part of the network’s dishonest efforts to pretend that it is championing the left-behind fossil fuel workers by blocking any transition to a greener economy.
The Associated Press explains that many such wells “are located in rural communities that have been hard-hit by the pandemic,” and thus the plan would both create jobs in those regions while also cleaning up pollution — especially methane leaks, which contribute to global warming.
But on his Fox News show Wednesday night, Sean Hannity was outraged that “billions more would be used to permanently cap — permanently cap — oil and gas wells. I bet Vladimir Putin, I bet the mullahs in Iran, I bet all these countries that hate us in the Middle East, they're doing back-flips and celebrating tonight.”
On Thursday morning’s Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade declared, “If you were watching that speech and you put your ear right to your television, you heard China, Japan, and Russia high-fiving.” One reason for this, he explained: “They're loving that we're going to be capping oil wells. They are going to love that we are stopping with coal because they are not and they can't wait to use that advantage on us.”
And as a special bonus, Steve Milloy — professional climate denier, former Trump transition team member at the Environmental Protection Agency, occasional Fox News guest, and founder of the ironically named website JunkScience.com — tweeted the accusation that capping these oil wells was “energy dumbassness” and part of a plan for “climate communism.” He later acknowledged the actual issue at hand, but said there was “no reason for taxpayers to spend $16 billion on old oil wells and mines” — and if there were “any real problems,” he allowed hypothetically, they should be handled by the companies “unless the Obama admin already bankrupted them.”
Contrary to Milloy’s statement that “we need to drill more oil and gas,” fossil fuel companies are already sitting on 23 million acres of unused federal leases, but the land is already uneconomical to drill in comparison to emerging renewable energy sources.
Furthermore, the only socialized aspect of this issue is that government is all too often left to absorb the costs of a serious environmental problem, while industry has privatized the gains. As a 2018 article from the Pew Trusts explained, the wells are “orphaned” because the companies that drilled them have gone out of business or can’t afford to plug them. In addition, bonding requirements are often too low to meet the actual costs that eventually bear out, because small operators would not be able to pay them up front.
But the environmental consequences of the abandoned sites are very real — and so are the cleanup costs that are left over.
Nobody knows how many orphan and abandoned drilling sites litter farms, forests and backyards nationwide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are more than a million of them. Unplugged wells can leak methane, an explosive gas, into neighborhoods and leach toxins into groundwater.
Methane leaking from abandoned wells caused explosions at a Colorado construction site in 2007 and at a Pennsylvania home in 2011.
In 2014, an Ohio elementary school had to be evacuated because of a gas leak traced to an abandoned well underneath the gym. Near the West Texas town of Imperial, effluence from decades-old oil wells has created a “lake” of salty, sulfurous water.
Sometimes the cost of plugging a well is covered by bonds that companies post before drilling. Often, it’s not. Costs can range from as little as $5,000 to plug a shallow well, such as the coalbed methane wells on Bill West’s ranch in Wyoming, to tens of thousands for deeper, more complicated projects.
It should not be a surprise that Fox would dishonestly cover this problem, though, as the network has embraced climate denial and misinformation for years, as well as positioning itself to undermine action on the environment and climate change heading into the Biden administration. So it makes sense that Fox has also come up with such a weak attempt to twist a commonsense environmental measure that would also provide real jobs and tangible benefits for people living in rural communities.