Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has established an Orphaned Wells Program Office to implement President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The law delivers a $4.7 billion investment to plug orphaned wells, which according to a press release from Haaland’s office, is the largest investment in tackling legacy pollution in American history. The funding establishes the office under the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget and will be led by Director Kimbra Davis, who has served at the DOI since April 2009.
The new office will support states, tribal nations, and federal land managers as they close and remediate orphaned oil and gas wells that pose environmental hazards to communities across the country, Haaland said.
The Osage Minerals Council has been plugging orphaned wells since 2016. In 2018, they were awarded a $3 million federal grant through the Nation’s Office of Self Governance as part of a multi-year funding agreement (MIFA). In 2022, they were awarded an additional $1.1 million. Last year, the BIA said there are over 1,600 orphaned wells on the Osage reservation and Minerals Council officials reported they find more orphaned wells all the time. To date, the council has plugged over 70 wells.
Orphaned oil and gas wells are bad for the environment because methane leaking from many of these unplugged wells is a serious safety hazard, a danger to human health and is a significant cause of climate change, being more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, according to the release.
According to the Enverus well database, a leading provider of U.S. energy data analytics and software, the number of orphaned wells in the U.S. as of April 2022 was approximately 123,318.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s $4.7 billion investment is divided into three programs:
* $4.3 billion to be used to plug orphaned wells on state and private lands;
* $250 million to cap orphaned wells on public lands, including in national parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges; and
* $150 million to cap orphaned wells on tribal lands.
According to the release, the DOI has allocated an initial $33 million this year to clean up 277 orphaned wells in national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and other public lands, and distributed the first $560 million in initial grants to states to set up well-plugging infrastructure and address high-priority wells. Guidance, informed by tribal consultations and listening sessions, has also been shared to direct tribes on how to apply for the first $50 million in funding to address orphaned wells on tribal lands.
The Osage Nation will receive additional grant money for their well-plugging efforts, but the amount has not yet been released. OMC Chairman Everett Waller did not return a request for comment before this article was published.