President Joe Biden’s economic plans are building an economy that works for all Americans. This CAP Action newsletter focuses on elevating trend stories on how the president’s policies are growing the economy by investing in people and places all over the country.
Orphaned oil and gas wells are wells that have been stranded by fossil fuel extraction companies. They are also a significant producer of methane gas and groundwater pollution. Methane traps 80 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, making it a major contributor to the climate crisis. By polluting our environment and exacerbating climate change, these wells pose a major threat to all Americans, but especially the 9 million Americans who live in close proximity to abandoned oil and gas wells.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), also known as the bipartisan infrastructure law, provides nearly $5 billion to plug and reclaim orphaned wells over a five-year period. Last August, the U.S. Department of the Interior began distributing $25 million initial funding grants to dozens of states, which the agency says will help plug more than 10,000 orphaned wells and create good-paying jobs.
Here is a look at how Americans and communities across the country are already benefiting from Biden’s efforts to plug and reclaim orphaned oil and gas wells.
- In an email to CAP Action, Jayette Bolinski, communications director at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, advised: “Since Jan. 1, 2023, 43 wells have been plugged with funds from the U.S. Department of Interior under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). This brings the total number of wells plugged to 103 using the initial [$25 million] grant [awarded to the state in August of last year].”
- The Kansas Corporation Commission’s (KCC) Abandoned Well Plugging Department notes, “Kansas is eligible to receive $58.6 million for orphaned well site plugging, remediation, & reclamation,” thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law’s well-plugging initial and formula grants. According to the KCC, the state plans to use these funds to plug 2,165 abandoned wells across the state.
- A newly released progress report from the KCC’s Abandoned Well Plugging Department finds that the state has successfully plugged 453 abandoned wells using these federal funds as of March 31, 2023.
- Kentucky estimates it can plug and reclaim up to 1,200 abandoned oil and gas wells using the state’s initial planning grant funds. According to a press release from Gov. Andy Beshear’s office, “The initiative is expected to create 180 jobs.”
- As of February 16, 2023, WKDZ reports “more than 350 such wells have already been plugged in 14 counties: Cumberland, Christian, Daviess, Henderson, Lee, McLean, Ohio, Pulaski, Webster, Estill, Lawrence, Powell, Warren and Union.”
- Separately, the University of Kentucky reports: “Funding from BIL [bipartisan infrastructure law] via the Kentucky Division of Oil and Gas, KGS [Kentucky Geological Survey] is leading a project … to measure methane emissions from representative wells to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program. According to [KGS geologist Marty] Parris, ‘because the population of orphaned wells is so large, [KGS] will measure methane emissions on a small sample set of wells and use inferential statistics to define emissions characteristics based on the geologic and engineering attributes of the wells. Our goal is to see if certain well types tend to have higher methane emissions.’ The analysis will further document where plugging will remove contamination threats to groundwater and improve the safety on agricultural and recreational lands.”
- In August 2022, the U.S. Department of Interior announced a $25 million grant to the state of Louisiana to reclaim at least 250 abandoned oil and gas wells.
- On March 23, 2023, Chron reported Gov. John Bel Edwards announced, “More than 100 abandoned oil wells, which can leak cancer-causing chemicals and threaten the environmental health of an area, in Louisiana have been plugged during the last two months.”
- In an April 5, 2023, phone interview with CAP Action, Ben Jones, administrator of the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation, said all 237 identified orphaned wells identified in the state are under contract to be reclaimed over the next three years using the state’s initial grant funding provided by the Interior Department. According to Jones, since the funds were awarded, the state has finalized contracts with 13 firms, begun prepping surface locations for plugging, and already reclaimed 19 orphaned wells. He anticipates the state will have successfully plugged half of its orphaned wells by this upcoming winter.
- The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports: “New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division said in the past it was typically able to plug about 50 wells a year, but with about $43.7 million in federal funds allocated to New Mexico through the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and additional federal grants made available, that number could climb to up to 200.”
- The Carlsbad Current-Argus also reports: “According to New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department … said in a recent report it plugged 23 orphan wells since September 2022 using federal funds … prevent[ing] more than 46,000 kilograms per year of methane air pollution. That’s equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions of driving 2.85 million miles in a gasoline-powered vehicle, or the carbon sequestration provided by 1,360 acres of forest in a year.”
- In an April 6, 2023, email to CAP Action, Kurt Klapkowski, acting deputy secretary of the Office of Oil and Gas Management at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said, “11 AO [abandoned or orphan] wells have been plugged and another 213 AO wells are ‘in progress’ (that is, either under contract to be plugged or somewhere in [the] contracting processes) … We expect to have all $22.5 million available for AO well plugging contracts obligated in 2Q 2023.”
- Among the plugged wells the infrastructure law has supported is one behind the home of Ohio Township, Pennsylvania’s Mary Vojtas, who told the Allegheny Front: “I’m happy it’s leaving … I said, ‘Thank you, God.’ Honest to God, I prayed all the time that we could get rid of it.”
- In August 2022, the U.S. Department of Interior announced a $25 million grant to the state of Texas to reclaim 800 abandoned wells this fiscal year, thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law.
- According to the Texas Railroad Commission’s Oil and Gas Data Visualization page, the state of Texas has plugged 321 orphaned wells as of March 28, 2023, using these funds. The commission has also issued work orders to plug an additional 547 abandoned wells across the state.
Improvements to transparency, accountability, and performance for the infrastructure law’s orphaned well programs are on the horizon
Before the passage of the infrastructure law, states collected different data on and reported on different outcomes of orphaned well programs. Opportunities to build a skilled workforce were often missed, and states sometimes failed to maximally leverage federal resources. It was often difficult to impossible to assess the economic costs and benefits of the state’s programs.
The initial grants authorized by the infrastructure law—those reported on above—included strongly recommended standards for comparable and effective data-gathering and reporting requirements. This was a major step forward in transparency and accountability. The next round of formula grants, to be sent to states this year, will convert many of the recommended practices into requirements, allowing the administration, the public, and the press to account for the economic benefits and environmental justice outcomes of the orphaned well program in a more consistent and robust manner.
The Biden administration’s attention to data and program implementation will ensure that public funds are used effectively, achieve environmental goals, and build a more equitable and inclusive economy.
In the news
The Wall Street Journal: “Construction spending related to manufacturing reached $108 billion in 2022, Census Bureau data show, the highest annual total on record—more than was spent to build schools, healthcare centers or office buildings. New factories are rising in urban cores and rural fields, desert flats and surf towns. Much of the growth is coming in the high-tech fields of electric-vehicle batteries and semiconductors, national priorities backed by billions of dollars in government incentives.”
The Washington Post: “‘The unemployment rate is close to the lowest it has been in more than 50 years and a record low for African Americans,’ President Biden said in a statement … ‘Thanks to the policies we have put in place, the recovery is creating good jobs that you can raise a family on.’”
E&E News: “Senior administration officials announced new policies Tuesday that aim to ensure that rural regions hit by mine closures and shuttered power plants can get an economic boost from new federal cash for energy and infrastructure funding. The announcements come as part of the Biden administration’s broader push to advance its climate agenda while also creating jobs in rural regions hit hard by coal’s decline.”
The Evening Tribune: “The infrastructure legislation included requirements that will ensure its investments create jobs on U.S. soil. The legislation is already making an impact, said Alstom’s Americas President and CEO Michael Keroullé. Keroullé credited the Buy America policy with strengthening Alstom’s Hornell operation, now the largest passenger rail manufacturing plant in the U.S. Alstom previously invested $66 million to support the Acela project, creating more than 400 jobs in Hornell and 750 overall. The project has also boosted local suppliers. The seats on the Acela are made in nearby Wayland, while Hornell companies like TTA supply critical parts.”
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