oil well usa
American states have identified more than 129,000 orphaned oil and gas wells, although that number could grow with increased surveying.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Oil well dismantling receives renewed funding

Effort could lead to dismantling work and scrap metal harvesting.

August 29, 2022

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) says it has awarded an initial $560 million from the federal infrastructure law to 24 states to begin work to plug, cap and reclaim orphaned oil and gas wells.

The department says 22 states will receive $25 million each to go toward such work, while “Arkansas and Mississippi will receive $5 million each to support methane measurement and begin plugging wells.”

Eligible states have indicated there are more than 10,000 “high-priority” well sites across the country ready for immediate remediation efforts, according to the DOI, with “many more lined up for future action.”

Methane leaking from unplugged wells is called “a serious safety hazard and is a significant cause of climate change, being more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere,” the DOI says.

“At the Department of the Interior, we are working on multiple fronts to clean up these sites as quickly as we can by investing in efforts on federal lands and partnering with states and Tribes to leave no community behind,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland says. “Today’s announcement is exciting progress toward what we will accomplish together through this historic law.”

Initial plans of the states involved indicate: 15 states will utilize 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; 12 states—including Kansas, New Mexico and Ohio—have prioritized capping wells in disadvantaged communities; states including Arizona, Louisiana and Montana will prioritize job creation and preference to small businesses through their contracting process, according to the DOI.

As of 2021, states had identified more than 129,000 orphaned wells on state and private land, though that number could grow after further records research, improved well location techniques and increased site inspections and data collection nationwide. Kentucky and Oklahoma may have more than 1,000 such sites.

In the Western U.S., Montana-based scrap recycler Pacific Steel & Recycling has been involved with a not-for-profit called the Well Done Foundation (also based in Montana) to help dismantle dozens of orphaned oil and gas wells in that state.

A list of the estimated number of orphaned wells in the participating states, along with the DOI news release, can be found here.