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11 Wells Plugged at Padre Island National Seashore

The plugging of 10 oil wells and one water well at Padre Island National Seashore was completed in March 2021. The work was paid for by Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill funding through the Railroad Commission of Texas. Courtesy photo

Ten orphaned oil and gas wells and an associated groundwater well at Padre Island National Seashore were recently plugged as part of Restore the Gulf, a program that uses Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill funding to clean up the Gulf of Mexico shoreline from South Texas to Eastern Florida. The money is administered by the Railroad Commission of Texas and the RESTORE Council.

“Protecting the Padre Island National Seashore’s natural habitat and providing pristine beaches to Texans is just one of many steps to ensure the future restoration of the Texas coast provided by RESTORE funds,” said Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. “This project will help protect this area for all residents and wildlife for years to come.”

Padre Island National Seashore’s enabling legislation stipulates mineral rights be retained by the property grantors and that the park provide access to these minerals. Mineral development and extraction are subject to regulations that ensure park lands are left unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. Modena Operating abandoned its operations and infrastructure within the park and left the United States in 2012. The park pursued legal remedies to hold the responsible party accountable for plugging the wells and reclaiming five well pads it left behind, collecting a $200,000 bond, the maximum allowable at the time.

In 2015, the park proposed, through the U.S. Department of the Interior, well plugging and site reclamation to the RESTORE Council. In 2018, just over $1.3 million was awarded to the park for the project from a fund created after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Funds were transferred to the railroad commission under a master cooperative agreement between the park and commission, which is the primary oil and gas regulator in Texas. Then, from mid-January to the end of March 2021, the railroad commission monitored the well-plugging operations in the park. To protect the integrity of the dunes at the national seashore, the company built a mat road to allow trucks to safely cross the dunes and get to the remote wells. Trucks carrying equipment traveled the beach road each day, providing access for crews to complete their work while protecting public safety and the environment. “This is a win for our state and all Texans,” said Wei Wang, executive director of the Texas Railroad Commission. “These wells on federal land were not part of the state's well-plugging program, but Padre Island National Seashore sought out the RRC because of our expertise in overseeing plugging projects. Our collaborative work with the park not only helps protect a natural treasure for future generations to enjoy, but it also helped provide jobs for some of our state’s oil and gas workers.”

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