The Biden administration is tackling the long-standing issue of abandoned wells left by the fossil fuel industry, allocating nearly $660 million in funds from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.
These funds will help states plug the millions of “orphaned wells” scattered across the United States, which were once used for oil extraction but abandoned when deemed unprofitable. The initiative aims to combat environmental and health risks associated with these abandoned wells. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland highlighted the positive impact of the investment, stating that it will create employment opportunities while safeguarding the climate and the community’s well-being. According to GristOrg News, unplugged wells can release hazardous compounds into the surroundings and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, mainly methane, a potent climate-warming gas.
Enforcing regulatory compliance has been challenging, as companies are legally obligated to seal wells after extraction but often struggle to meet these obligations. Financial constraints and bankruptcy filings have left an estimated 2 to 3 million abandoned oil wells nationwide, with states like Texas and Pennsylvania heavily affected.
The funding allocation reflects the administration’s commitment to environmental justice, addressing the disproportionate pollution burden on low-income communities and people of color. In addition to climate concerns, living near these wells poses public health risks, with emissions containing chemicals linked to severe illnesses.
This marks the second round of funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law dedicated to plugging orphaned wells. States can apply for grants ranging from $1 million to $80 million, depending on their number of wells. While the funding is significant, experts raise concerns about the resources needed to address the scale of the problem entirely and whether the industry should bear greater responsibility.
The Biden administration’s allocation of $660 million underscores its commitment to mitigating the environmental and health consequences of abandoned wells while promoting job creation and ecological justice. The initiative paves the way for a cleaner and safer future by addressing these neglected sites.