By Janet McConnaughey, The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — The Interior Department is giving 24 states a total of $560 million to start cleaning high-priority derelict oil and gas wells abandoned on state and private land, the department said Thursday.
It said up to 10,000 wells could be dealt with as the government begins allocating $4.7 billion set aside to create an orphan well cleanup program under the bipartisan infrastructure plan approved late last year. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are more than 3 million abandoned oil and gas wells around the nation.
The infrastructure law “is enabling us to confront long-standing environmental injustices by making a historic investment to plug orphaned wells throughout the country,” Secretary Deb Haaland said in a news release.
A dozen states including Arkansas, Kansas, New Mexico and Ohio, have prioritized wells in disadvantaged communities, the department said.
Louisiana said it would plug 250 to 900 wells near low-income communities, providing a chance for unemployed energy workers from such areas to learn how to plug orphaned wells and to get work doing so, a separate release said.
Most of the states are getting $25 million each to clean wells and measure methane, with 15 using some of the money to enable measurement of the potent greenhouse gas.
Arkansas, which has 227 wells on its priority list, and Mississippi, which plans to use part of its grant to inventory orphaned wells, are getting $5 million each.
In April, the department announced $33 million to cap and clean up 277 wells on federal land.
States have identified anywhere from a dozen to more than 2,000 wells to plug with these initial grants, the department said.
“The number of wells varies based on the remoteness, well depth, site conditions and previous activity at the well site as well as other state considerations, such as the number of existing staff and whether the state has preexisting well plugging contracts,” it said.
Alaska said it would plug and clean up 12 to 18 wells with its initial grant, and Kansas identified 2,352, according to the department. Kentucky said it had 1,000 to 2,000; Oklahoma 1,196. Texas set its figure at 800, Illinois 600 to 800 and Colorado at 710.
Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming also are getting grants.
Colorado is receiving an initial $25 million in grant funds. The state will use the funds to begin plugging and remediating 710 abandoned wells.
The department said states have identified more than 129,000 orphaned wells on state and private land. The total will rise because infrastructure money will allow more records research and field equipment, improve well location techniques, and increase site inspections and data collection nationwide, the department said.