Department of the Interior announces funding for states to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells

“The Department is taking a thoughtful and methodical approach to implementing the orphaned oil and gas well program that aims to get money to states as quickly as possible while being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars."

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Image Credit: Louisiana Department of Natural Resourses

As part of the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Department of the Interior announced that $1.15 billion of funding will be allocated to states to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells across the country. The Department said this “key initiative of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” will “create good-paying, union jobs, catalyze economic growth and revitalization, and reduce dangerous methane leaks” by cleaning up these hazardous sites.

Orphaned wells that have been abandoned by the oil and gas industry are said to spew toxic chemicals into the air and water, which threatens the health of nearby communities and emits large amounts of methane, according to the Sierra Club.

“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is enabling us to confront the legacy pollution and long-standing environmental injustices that for too long have plagued underrepresented communities,” Secretary Deb Haaland, said. “We must act with urgency to address the more than one hundred thousand documented orphaned wells across the country and leave no community behind. This is good for our climate, for the health our communities, and for American workers.”

Twenty-six states submitted Notice of Intent (NOI) showing interest in “applying for a formula grant to fund the proper closure and cleanup of orphaned wells and well sites,” according to the Department. In Phase One, up to$25 million in Initial Grant funding and a quarter of the total Formula Grant money will be available for these states.

Allocated funding was determined through data showing “job losses in each state from March 2020 through November 2021; the number of documented orphaned oil and gas wells in each state; and the estimated cost of cleaning up orphaned wells in each state,” according to the Department.

“These funds will allow states to do the critical work of cleaning up abandoned oil and gas wells that are poisoning communities and destabilizing our climate,” Mahyar Sorour, deputy legislative director at Sierra Club, said. “Congress must act to protect communities and taxpayers from having to keep cleaning up the fossil fuel industry’s messes.”

The Department will provide guidance on how states apply for the Initial Grants in the coming months as will application guidance for states to access the Formula Grant funding and instructions on the application process for the $1.5 billion in state Performance Grants. 

“The Department is taking a thoughtful and methodical approach to implementing the orphaned oil and gas well program that aims to get money to states as quickly as possible while being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Haaland said. ”We are committed to ensuring states receive investments equitably and based on data-driven needs.”  

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