The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) has exceeded its performance target of plugging abandoned oil and gas wells throughout the Lone Star State for the fourth straight year.

In a recent statement, Texas’ oil regulator said it had plugged 1,477 orphan wells in fiscal-year 2020, which ended on Aug. 31, exceeding the target of 1,400 set by the state legislature.

“The state-managed plugging program is an important part of our critical mission to protect public safety and the environment.” said Danny Sorrells, RRC’s assistant executive director and director of its oil and gas division, in the agency’s statement. “Given the current energy industry downturn, the program also helps to employ oilfield service company workers throughout Texas. These employees are contracted and supervised to plug abandoned orphan wells by the Railroad Commission of Texas.”

The state-managed plugging program is paid through industry fees rather than by taxpayers. The program addresses wells that are no longer productive and are considered orphaned in accordance with state laws and regulations. RRC staff prioritizes which orphan wells to plug based on potential risks to public safety and the environment, the agency said.

The work done in the most recent fiscal year continues a positive trend in the RRC’s work in exceeding performance targets.

In 2017, the goal was to plug 875 wells, and the agency plugged 918 wells. In 2018 and 2019, the performance goal was to plug 979 abandoned wells each year, and the agency plugged 1,364 and 1,710 respectively.

“A few years ago, we took a hard look at improving our state-managed plugging program,” said RRC Director of Field Operations Clay Woodul in the statement. “We streamlined our internal processes, which, along with improved employee retention, has contributed to the success of the program. Our commitment continues even through limitations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Since it was established in 1984 to the end of the recent fiscal year, the agency’s program has successfully plugged 41,132 orphan wells that were abandoned following oil and gas production.