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A Voice for our Ocean

Fossil fuel companies’ defunct rigs are continuing to pollute our ocean, and government oversight isn’t working

New GAO report underscores long overdue need to hold fossil fuel industry accountable for continued damage to our ocean and climate

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ANCHORAGE, AK – Today, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report highlighting the insufficiencies in government oversight of decommissioning of offshore drilling infrastructure. Decommissioning is the process of cleaning up oil and gas operations by permanently plugging defunct wells, removing oil platforms, and remediating the seafloor. Andrew Hartsig, Senior Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Arctic conservation program and an expert in oil and gas policy, issued the following statement in response:

Today’s report reveals serious issues with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) efforts to enforce laws that require fossil fuel companies to plug up and remove offshore oil wells that are no longer in use. The report also highlights the fossil fuel industry’s failure to take responsibility for its continued impact on our ocean and coastal communities. 

“Oil and gas companies have already littered our ocean floor with more than 20,000 miles of disused pipeline. And there’s a large backlog when it comes to decommissioning offshore wells and platforms: as of last June, more than 75 percent of end-of-lease and idle infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico was behind schedule relative to BSEE deadlines. Unplugged wells can leak oil and powerful greenhouse gasses such as methane.

“Not only does ineffective oversight and regulation harm our ocean, but it can also hurt taxpayer’s wallets when oil operators declare bankruptcy and leave clean up costs to be borne by the public. Thirty-seven offshore oil and gas operators have filed for bankruptcy since 2009.

“The solutions to this problem are clear, and it starts by improving government oversight to ensure that offshore oil and gas lease holders pay for the full cost of decommissioning their oil and gas equipment, including properly plugging their wells and removing platforms and pipelines from the ocean.

“It’s evident that the fossil fuel industry will not act on their own, and we hope to see the Biden administration and Congress take strong action in response to this report.”


Andrew Hartsig is available for interviews upon request.

About Ocean Conservancy Ocean Conservancy is working to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together with our partners, we create evidence-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit or follow us on Facebook, X (Formerly known as Twitter) and Instagram.

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