The U.S. Department of the Interior late last month announced $1.15 billion in funding available to states  to create jobs cleaning up orphaned oil and gas wells across the country. The money comes as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which allocated a total of $4.7 billion to create a new federal program to address orphan wells. 

“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,” says Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “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.” 

Millions of Americans across the country live within a mile of an orphaned oil and gas well.

Orphaned wells pollute backyards, recreation areas and public spaces across the country. In a release, Interior called the initiative an “historic investment” to clean up these hazardous sites that will create good-paying, union jobs, foster economic growth and revitalization, and reduce dangerous methane leaks.

Nearly every state with documented orphaned wells submitted a Notice of Intent (NOI) indicating interest in applying for a formula grant to fund the proper closure and cleanup of orphaned wells and well sites.  Funding will proceeds with up to $25 million in an initial round for the 26 states that submitted NOIs, then phase one allocations vary based on a state’s recent job losses; the documented number of orphan wells in a state; and the estimated cost of testing, plugging and site remediation for identified 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. We are committed to ensuring states receive investments equitably and based on data-driven needs,” Haaland says.  

The department expects to soon release detailed guidance for states to apply for initial grants. These resources will allow state officials to begin building out their plugging programs, remediating high-priority wells, and collecting additional data regarding the number of orphaned wells in their states. Improvements in the state data, combined with more accurate Bureau of Labor Statistics job loss data that will be released in upcoming months, will allow the department to ensure that the final formula funding for states is based on the best information available.