TOPEKA (KSNT) – The Department of the Interior announced Friday that it has awarded an initial $560 million from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to 24 states to begin work to plug, cap and reclaim orphaned oil and gas wells.

Kansas has the highest number of uncapped oil and gas wells in the country and is one of the eligible states that will be receiving $38 million through 2022 for legacy pollution cleanup, of which $25 million will go to capping 2,352 wells.

“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is enabling us to confront long-standing environmental injustices by making a historic investment to plug orphaned wells throughout the country,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “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. Today’s announcement is exciting progress toward what we will accomplish together through this historic Law.”

A well is considered “abandoned” when it has been permanently taken out of production, is not properly plugged to prevent possible air or groundwater pollution, and the rightful legal owner cannot be determined or located to take responsibility.

The Kansas Corporation Commission, KCC, plans to use the initial $25 million grant to pay for eight projects involving the plugging of the more than 2300 abandoned wells over the next two to three years.  Four projects are located in Eastern Kansas. The other four are located in Central and Western Kansas. A map showing the locations of the projects and number of wells in each can be viewed here.

In a press release Friday, KCC officials said that while the federal grants will help reduce the total number of abandoned wells in Kansas, they are insufficient to address the entire problem.  According to the KCC, the agency will still rely on industry generated funds to plug the thousands of wells remaining after the federal program expires.

According to Department of Interior officials, millions of Americans across the country live within a mile of an orphaned oil and gas well. Eligible states have indicated that there are over 10,000 high-priority well sites across the country ready for immediate remediation efforts, with many more lined up for future action.

Kansas is one of 12 states that will be prioritizing capping wells based on disadvantaged communities. In a press briefing, Whitney Stachelberg, Senior Advisor and Infrastructure Coordinator for the Department of Interior, the state’s priorities include surface water, ground water, and public safety.

Department of Interior officials expressed concerns over orphaned oil and gas wells polluting backyards, recreation areas, and community spaces across the country. Officials say methane leaking from many of these unplugged wells is 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 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law delivers the largest investment in tackling legacy pollution in American history, including through a $4.7 billion investment to plug orphaned wells. The historic investments to clean up these sites is expected to create good-paying union jobs, catalyze economic growth and revitalization, and reduce harmful methane leaks.

As of 2021, states have identified more than 129,000 orphaned wells on state and private land, though this number will grow as Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding becomes available for further records research, more field equipment, improved well location techniques, and increased site inspections and data collection nationwide.