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National News

Arizona receives federal funding to clean up orphaned oil, gas wells

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by Shondiin Silversmith, Arizona Mirror
June 27, 2024

Arizona is among five states chosen to receive funding from the Department of the Interior to address the environmental and safety hazards of orphaned oil and gas wells across the country.

“Toxic orphaned oil and gas wells have plagued American communities for generations,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a written statement. 

Orphaned oil and gas wells have no known owner capable of properly plugging or closing the well and reclaiming the well site. The wells no longer produce oil and gas; when a well is orphaned, the clean-up responsibilities are left to federal and state governments.

Through funding from President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda, Haaland said that states and tribal nations are addressing this long-standing environmental injustice by investing in plugging orphaned oil and gas wells.

“Millions of Americans live within a mile of an orphaned oil and gas well,” Haaland said. “With this historic funding, we are empowering the states of Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, New York and Ohio to begin to turn the tide on these environmental hazards that are harming our communities, lands, waters and air.”  

The Department of the Interior allocated more than $126 million in funding for Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, New York, and Ohio to plug orphaned oil and gas wells within their states. 

Arizona will receive about $4.8 million. Ohio received over $57 million in funding, Alaska and New York received $25 million, and Indiana received over $14 million. 

Orphaned oil and gas wells are the responsibility of state, federal, and tribal governments, according to the Interior Department, because unplugged wells pose a severe risk to people, the environment, ecosystems and the climate. The wells threaten the air and water due to contamination risk to surface and groundwater as well as the release of toxic air pollutants and leaking methane.

Since August 2022, the department has awarded $565 million in initial grant funding to 25 states to help them begin inventorying, plugging, and cleaning up orphaned oil and gas wells. 

As of March, the Department of Interior reported that Ohio, Alaska, New York, Indiana, and Arizona had plugged more than 340 orphaned wells. They have also been working on inventorying orphaned wells and conducting community outreach and well characterization.

Arizona established its oil and gas wellness program in 2022 after receiving an initial grant of $25 million. The Interior Department reported that Arizona has 245 orphaned oil and gas wells on state and private lands. 

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality partners with the Arizona Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and private landowners to locate, verify and plug orphaned oil and gas wells across the state.

Many of Arizona’s oil and gas wells were drilled in the early 1900s, according to ADEQ, predating the current regulations, which is why many may not have been properly closed.

With initial funding from the Department of the Interior in 2022, the ADEQ initiated a multi-year program to address the potential safety, public health, and environmental risks associated with abandoned oil and gas wells.

As of April 2024, ADEQ reported identifying and verifying more than 80 oil and gas wells in the field, which includes confirmed orphaned wells, plugged oil and gas wells and converted water wells.

This story is republished from AZ Mirror under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.