U.S. taxpayers could be left footing a bill of tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars to clean up oil and gas wells across the country as a growing number of producers collapse into bankruptcy, according to a new report.

A tiny proportion of the costs of “plugging” America’s active wells are currently covered by insurance mechanisms, the report from the Carbon Tracker think-tank estimates. That means when companies go bust, the bill for doing so will often be left to the state authorities.

“If companies are in dire straits plugging these wells is probably one of the very last things on the list of management ideas for how to use cash,” said Robert Schuwerk, one of the authors of the report. “If they happen to go bankrupt, and nobody wants to pick up the well out of the bankruptcy, then the state’s going to end up picking up the tab.”

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