Congress, Energy, Environment

State to receive $25 million in federal funds to plug orphaned gas wells; first installment from bipartisan infrastructure bill

MORGANTOWN – Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito announced that the state will receive $25 million in federal funds to cap 160 orphaned oil and gas wells.

The money comes from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The U.S. Department of Interior said Thursday that this is the first installment in an overall $1.15 billion in Phase One funding announced in January by the Department for states to plug and remediate orphaned wells. States will receive additional formula funding dollars in the coming months.

State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Terry Fletcher said DEP’s approach to handling the initial grant phase of the act has been to award regional contracts through the competitive bid process to well-plugging vendors.

DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas has divided the state into six geographic regions and set a required number of wells to be plugged from a list of orphaned wells within each region, he said. Under the terms of the contract, any orphaned, abandoned well may be plugged, provided that a minimum 25% of wells plugged from this grant be deemed Class 1 wells (hazardous and non-hazardous waste injection wells).

The state is in the process of awarding these contracts, and the eventual awardees will have one year from the award date in which to plug the requisite number of wells, Fletcher said.

The $25 million is part of an initial national award of $560 million from the Department of the Interior to address and clean up orphaned oil and gas wells in 24 states, Manchin and Capito said.

Interior said, “Millions of Americans across the country live within a mile of an orphaned oil and gas well. Eligible states have indicated that there are over 10,000 high-priority well sites across the country ready for immediate remediation efforts, with many more lined up for future action.”

Manchin and Capito said there are at least 4,646 documented orphan wells in West Virginia alone that will be eligible for funding under this initiative. “These wells jeopardize public health and safety by contaminating groundwater, seeping toxic chemicals, emitting harmful pollutants including methane and harming wildlife.”

Interior said plugging orphaned wells will help advance the goals of the U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan, as well as the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, which focuses on spurring economic revitalization in hard-hit energy communities, Interior said.

Fifteen states will use initial grant funding to set up methane measuring capacity while six states – including California, Mississippi and West Virginia – have committed to measuring methane before and immediately after remediation

As of 2021, Interior said, states have identified more than 129,000 orphaned wells on state and private land, though this number will grow as Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding becomes available for further records research, more field equipment, improved well location techniques, and increased site inspections and data collection nationwide.

Of states eligible for funding, 22 have been allocated $25 million each in initial state grants. Arkansas and Mississippi will receive $5 million each to support methane measurement and begin plugging wells.

Manchin and Capito both offered comments on the funding.

Manchin said, “These projects will ensure West Virginia’s hardworking communities can remain safe and healthy for future generations, while also bringing new economic opportunities and creating good-paying jobs for our communities. I look forward to seeing West Virginia move quickly to utilize these funds.”

Capito said, “When we crafted the bipartisan infrastructure law, addressing abandoned wells scattered throughout our nation and in West Virginia was an important priority. It takes key investments to help local communities meet the challenges posed by these orphaned wells, and that’s exactly what this will provide.”

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