(KXAN) — More than 76,000 jobs in the oil industry were lost from February to June of 2020 as a result of COVID-19 and decreasing oil demands.

A recent report by Resources for the Future and the Center on Global Energy
Policy at Columbia University
examines the potential to boost US employment in the oil and
gas workforce, while also reducing pollution through a federal program to plug orphaned
and abandoned oil and gas wells.

A significant federal program to plug orphan wells could create tens of thousands of jobs, potentially as many as 120,000 if 500,000 wells were plugged.

Oil and gas wells release pollution long after they’re retired from use.

Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, says “When an oil and gas company walks away from a well that had been producing and does not plug it, it can impose heavy environmental and climate costs. They can leak methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas into the air, as well as other harmful air pollutants.”

According to the EPA, there are more than 2 million unplugged inactive wells in the United States. Bordoff says that together, they emit as much carbon pollution as 2 million passenger vehicles per year.

President Joe Biden has pledged to establish a program to plug many of these inactive wells. Bordoff says this approach could create employment for oil and gas workers who lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many workers have lost their jobs and are struggling, and if they have a skill set that can be used to help the environment by plugging these wells, that can be a dual benefit,” Bordoff says. “You’re putting people back to work in a period of high unemployment until the economy is back on its feet, and you’re providing an environmental benefit.”

Estimates for the total number of orphaned and abandoned wells range from several hundred thousand to 3 million. At the same time the oil and gas industry, which has seen employment drop to levels not seen since 2006, appears able to scale up to carry out this work.

This would not only put people back to work in the Lone Star State but would be a nationwide initiative. The paper indicated that the largest number of orphaned wells are actually in Pennsylvania.