Officials from the Department of the Interior and the White House announced Wednesday $33 million in spending to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells on federal lands in nine states, including Pennsylvania.
The funding is part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and focuses on 277 orphaned oil and gas wells considered high priority polluting wells in national parks, national wildlife refuges, and on other public lands. This includes 18 wells in the Allegheny National Forest(ANF) in northwestern Pennsylvania.
Orphaned wells are no longer in use, and have no current legal owner, but they haven’t been capped and can leak methane and other pollutants.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the state has “inspected, investigated and documented more than 1,000 abandoned and orphan wells located within the boundaries of the ANF,” said agency spokesperson Jamar Thrasher in an email.
The DOI has not verified how much money Pennsylvania will receive through this round of funding, but “DEP believes that as much as $700,000 may have been allocated to plug orphan ANF wells on May 25,” Thrasher said.
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“I’ve seen firsthand how these sites left behind by extractive industries are safety hazards, particularly in communities of color and rural communities. It is our responsibility to tackle these harmful impacts,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “This is what we mean when we talk about environmental justice.”
Millions of Americans live within a mile of one of these wells, “Orphaned wells are polluting our backyards, our recreation areas, our ponds, our streams, our rivers, our public spaces across the country,” said White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu. “They’re seeping into groundwater systems, leaking methane, and contributing to our climate crisis.”
This first round of funding to plug, remediate and reclaim orphaned wells is expected to begin this year. The Interior Department estimates there are about 15,000 orphaned wells on federal land, and the Infrastructure Law includes $250 million for this work.
“There is a significant amount of work to be done,” Haaland said.
“We’re working with our friends in the labor community to ensure that this program creates good-paying union jobs in the states across the country,” she said.
Earlier this year, the administration announced $1.15 billion for state efforts to reclaim orphaned wells. States have identified over 130,000 orphaned wells around the country and estimated it will take around $8 billion to clean those wells up, according to Laura Daniel-Davis, DOI’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and mineral management.
Climate Change Goals
The money for orphaned well cleanups on federal land will be distributed to states through the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
“We expect that the agencies will immediately begin the process to acquire funding and reclamation services, contracts and land,” said Daniel-Davis.
Projects will measure each well at the beginning, and end of the work, “So we’re going to get a really clear and real look at the methane reductions we’re reaching, which, of course, are really a critical component of the President’s climate plan,” Daniel-Davis said.
This post has been updated to include ANF well counts and expected funding for Pennsylvania.