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$50M Available to Clean Up Orphaned Oil and Gas Wells on Tribal Lands

November 28, 2022 by Dan McCue
(Interior Department photo)

WASHINGTON — The Department of the Interior has issued a final guidance for tribes on how to apply for the first $50 million in grant funding available under the bipartisan infrastructure law to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells.

The legislation provides a total of $4.7 billion to address orphaned wells across the country, including $150 million for tribal communities over five years.

The final guidance was released following a 60-day nation-to-nation consultation process.

According to federal regulators, there are several thousand orphaned oil and gas wells on tribal lands, which jeopardize public health and safety by contaminating groundwater, seeping toxic chemicals into the environment and emitting harmful pollutants, including methane, harming wildlife.

In a written statement, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said what she described as “historic investments” were being made to “address long-standing environmental injustices left behind by extractive industries.”

“As part of our treaty and trust responsibility we have engaged in nation-to-nation consultations since the inception of this program so we can assist tribal nations in revitalizing their communities and help ensure future generations will have clear air, drinkable water, fertile soil and an overall good quality of life,” Haaland added.

The final guidance provides instructions to tribes on how to apply for orphaned well grants, as well as guidance on how tribes can ensure activities funded under the program are putting people to work, protecting the environment and safeguarding taxpayer money in a transparent and responsible manner.

Funding through the program may be utilized to plug, remediate or reclaim orphaned wells on tribal land, restore soil and habitat in the degraded area, decommission or remove associated infrastructure, identify and characterize additional undocumented wells on tribal land and set up well-plugging capacity where not already established.

In lieu of grants and consistent with the department’s trust responsibilities, tribes may also choose for the agency to administer and carry out plugging, remediation and reclamation activities on their behalf.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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