$35 Million from President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda to Clean Up Orphaned Wells in California

35 Million From President Bidens Investing In America Agenda To Clean Up Orphaned Wells In California

Historic funding to plug orphaned oil and gas wells will address environmental and safety hazards, create good-paying jobs in communities nationwide

LOS ANGELES — [Last week], as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s Infrastructure Week, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced a $35.2 million investment through President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to continue reclaiming and restoring orphaned oil and gas wells in California. With this new funding, the state of California expects to plug and remediate 206 high-risk orphaned oil and gas wells that threaten communities and decommission 47 attendant production facilities with approximately 70,000 feet of associated pipelines. Secretary Haaland also announced new matching grant guidance for states to access $30 million each in additional funding for orphaned well clean up.

Orphaned oil and gas wells are polluting backyards, recreation areas, and community spaces across the country. Many of these wells pose serious health and safety threats by contaminating surface and groundwater, releasing toxic air pollutants, and leaking methane – a “super pollutant” that is a significant cause of climate change and many times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Plugging orphaned wells supports broader Biden-Harris administration efforts under the U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan.

Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Department is delivering the largest investment in tackling legacy pollution in American history, including $4.7 billion to plug orphaned wells. This includes grants to states in three categories: initial grants, formula grants, and performance grants. Since August 2022, the Department has awarded $565 million in initial grant funding to 25 states, including $25 million to California, to begin work plugging and cleaning up orphaned wells nationwide. With initial grant funding, to date, California’s Geologic Energy Management Division has plugged 156 wells and conducted surface restoration of well sites.

“President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is creating jobs and revitalizing local economies while cleaning up harmful legacy pollution sites throughout the country,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “I’ve seen firsthand, including right here in Los Angeles, the urgent need to address these hazardous sites, many of which are actively leaking oil and releasing methane gas. With this historic funding, states like California are making significant progress in plugging wells and protecting communities. These investments are good for our climate, for the health of our communities and for American workers.”

Secretary Haaland made the announcement following a briefing by the California Geologic Energy Management Division on the impact of the funding the state has received to date. Joining the Secretary in the discussion were Mayor Karen Bass, California Deputy Secretary for Energy Le-Quyen Nguyen, labor representatives and environment justice advocates. Secretary Haaland previously visited Los Angeles in December 2021 to highlight the devastating and long-lasting effects of legacy pollution.

[Last week’s] award for California is part of an overall $660 million in phase one formula grant funding being released on a rolling basis. As part of the award, California will detect and measure methane emissions from orphaned oil and gas wells, screen for groundwater and surface water impacts, and prioritize cleaning up wells near overburdened and disadvantaged communities. This award advances the President’s Justice40 Initiative, which aims to deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments to disadvantaged communities that have been historically marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also provides $1.5 billion for state performance grants, which fall into two sub-categories: matching grants and regulatory improvement grants. [Last week], Secretary Haaland announced final guidance to states on how to apply for the up to $30 million in matching grant funding available to each state to create jobs and clean up polluting and unsafe orphaned oil and gas wells.

Eligible states may receive a matching grant from the Department equal to what the state commits to spend each fiscal year if that amount is greater than the average spent by the state between 2010 and 2019. By incentivizing states to increase their own spending on plugging and reclaiming orphaned wells, these grants will help address even more of the wells littered across the country. The guidance released [Last week] is a result of robust engagement with state partners and public stakeholders and reflects feedback provided on the draft that was released in February 2024.

As demonstrated in a StoryMap recently released by the Department, plugging is underway across the country, and since the enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, states have plugged more than 7,700 orphaned wells and reduced approximately 11,530 metric tons of potential methane emissions.

In addition to providing historic funding to states, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocated $250 million to clean up well sites in national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and other public lands, nearly $150 million of which has been allocated over the past three years. This funding for states and federal land managers is in addition to the close to $40 million awarded to Tribal communities in September 2023.

Press release from Department of Interior.


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