June 9, 2023

Federal government announces funding for orphaned wells focused on public lands

Hannah Grover/NM Political Report

An abandoned pumpjack is seen in a field in Kirtland.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a new round of funding to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells on Thursday.

This is the second year the federal government has made funding available for the program through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, better known as the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

This round of funding includes $63.8 million for remediation of orphaned wells in national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and on other public lands and waters.

While New Mexico is on the list of states where the National Park Service hopes to have orphaned wells plugged and remediated, it does not say how many wells in New Mexico may be addressed or how much money will be spent in the state from this round of funding.

In Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest, 130 wells have been identified for plugging and remediation. 

During a press conference on Thursday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said millions of Americans live within a mile of orphaned oil or gas wells.

“These are environmental hazards that jeopardize public health and safety by contaminating groundwater, emitting methane, which adds to the climate crisis, and littering our landscape with rusted and dangerous equipment,” she said.

Haaland spoke about a family in Pennsylvania who waited decades for the orphaned well on their property to be cleaned up. 

“We’re just getting started,” Haaland said about cleaning up orphaned wells.

She said in addition to private lands like the family’s property in Pennsylvania, the U.S. Department of Interior is looking to clean up wells on public lands including in national parks.

Haaland said last year the federal government dedicated $33 million to cleaning up orphaned wells in close partnership with land management agencies including the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the United States Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service.

“This year we’re proud to nearly double that commitment,” she said.

In addition to cleaning up legacy pollution, plugging and remediation can create new jobs in communities impacted by fossil fuel extraction.