Interior Department, Federal Partners Announce Interagency Effort to Clean Up Legacy Pollution, Implement Infrastructure Law

Interior Department

The Department of the Interior announced an interagency initiative today to implement a new federal program for addressing orphaned wells, a key initiative of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The law includes $4.7 billion for orphaned well site plugging, remediation, and restoration activities.

A new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed by the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, establishes a framework to implement the orphaned well program and commits the signing parties to leverage their capabilities, resources, and expertise in support of the initiative.

“I have seen firsthand how the orphaned oil and gas wells left behind by extractive industries lead to hazardous pollution, water contamination, and safety hazards for our communities. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is poised to make critical investments to help clean up this legacy pollution – and it will take an all-of-government approach to implement the program,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “I am proud to join our sister agencies in this effort, which will help advance the Administration’s goals of environmental justice by helping historically marginalized communities address the long-lasting effects of legacy pollution.”

“USDA and the Forest Service look forward to working closely with the Department of the Interior and the rest of the federal family on this very important program established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “It will not only address significant safety and natural resource concerns in many communities across the country, but will also create jobs in places where people are directly affected by orphaned oil and gas wells.”

“Capping unplugged oil and gas wells is a win-win, helping to revitalize rural economies and providing opportunity to the fossil fuel workers who have powered our nation for over a century to land skills-matched jobs that will protect the health of their communities,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The Department of Energy is proud to take part in this interagency effort, spurred by the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to curb the release of highly polluting methane into the atmosphere from orphaned wells.”

“EPA is thrilled to join the Department of the Interior and our federal partners to ensure the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law delivers critical protections for overburdened communities living near orphaned wells,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe. “In less than a year, EPA and the Biden Administration have put forward clear actions to protect public health, lift up communities, and tackle the climate crisis. We look forward to continuing that momentum under these historic environmental investments.”

In addition to formally establishing the orphaned well program within the 60-day statutory deadline outlined in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the MOU also establishes:

  • An Executive Group (EG) to provide executive level oversight and ensure the successful implementation of the program;
  • A Technical Working Group to provide input and recommendations to the EG, to coordinate funding and overarching program objectives, and to share best practices and technical expertise for implementing the program; and
  • State and Tribal Grant Programs for states and Tribes to establish and manage their own orphan well plugging, remediation, and restoration programs.

The Interior Department recently announced that nearly every state with documented orphaned wells submitted a Notice of Intent (NOI) indicating interest in applying for a formula grant to fund the proper closure and cleanup of orphaned oil and gas wells and well sites. The Department will publish the amount of formula grant funding that each state will be entitled to apply for, as well as detailed application guidance, in the coming weeks.

Millions of Americans live within a mile of hundreds of thousands of orphaned oil and gas wells. These wells jeopardize public health and safety by contaminating groundwater, seeping toxic chemicals, emitting harmful pollutants including methane, and harming wildlife.

In addition to creating immediate jobs addressing this pollution, these investments build the foundation for future job growth once sites are cleaned up and can support new economic development opportunities.

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 focus on spurring economic revitalization in hard hit energy communities while cutting pollution from the largest sources of methane emissions. These legacy pollution clean-up efforts will advance the Department’s goals of environmental justice by helping historically marginalized communities address the devastating and long-lasting effects of legacy pollution.

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