A wildflower blows in the wind near an old pump jack on Molly Rooke’s ranch, Tuesday, May 18, 2021, near Refugio, Texas. Oil and gas drilling began on the ranch in the 1920s and there were dozens of orphaned wells that needed to be plugged for safety and environmental protection. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Alaska will receive more than $32 million for clean up efforts. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

A wildflower blows in the wind near an old pump jack on Molly Rooke’s ranch, Tuesday, May 18, 2021, near Refugio, Texas. Oil and gas drilling began on the ranch in the 1920s and there were dozens of orphaned wells that needed to be plugged for safety and environmental protection. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Alaska will receive more than $32 million for clean up efforts. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Alaska to receive $32 million for orphaned well clean up

Funds are part of federal infrastructure package

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Tuesday it was making $1.15 billion available to states for clean up of so-called “orphaned” oil and gas wells that have been leaking pollutants for years. Alaska will receive $32 million from the federal government for cleanup efforts.

In Alaska, the state has applied for grant money for 12 orphaned wells with an estimated cost of $42.6 million, according to a release from the Alaska and Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. In an email, special assistant to the AOGCC Grace Salazar said the commission is the lead agency on the project but is coordinating with multiple departments, mainly the Department of Natural Resources, but also the Department of Environmental Conservation and the governor’s office.

The federal money is part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress last year, which allocated a total of $4.7 billion to create an entirely new program to address orphaned wells.

In a news conference Tuesday morning, Mitch Landrieu, senior adviser and infrastructure coordinator to the White House, said DOI has identified 130 orphaned wells throughout the country.

“My guess is there are many more,” Landrieu said of orphaned wells. “This is not only good for public health, but it’s an economic opportunity.”

[Flakes forecasted for February]

According to DOI, millions of Americans live less than a mile away from orphaned wells.

In a joint statement, Alaska’s Congressional delegation praised the allocation.

“For too long, though, officials at the federal level have neglected their duty to clean up old, orphaned oil and gas wells in our state and across the country,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, noting that polluted lands have been conveyed to Alaska Natives through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. “The bipartisan infrastructure bill we passed last year is making a difference, providing new funding to rectify this injustice and restore many of the lands we rely on to the pristine condition Alaskans expect.”

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said the program will help Alaska’s commitment to balancing the resource industry with environmental responsibility.

“These grants will go a long way toward cleaning up orphaned oil and gas wells in Alaska and the benefits extend far beyond just our environment,” Young said. “This funding will also help create good-paying jobs to expand economic empowerment for families across our state.”

One of the infrastructure bill’s key negotiators in the Senate, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the grants were only one part of the legislation’s efforts to clean up polluted sites.

“This new funding announcement, on top of the $250 million program for remediation of orphan wells on federal land, are just the start of exciting infrastructure opportunities to come for Alaskan projects,” Murkowski said.

Twenty-six states are eligible for funding under the grant program, DOI said, and each state will receive an initial grant of $25 million. The program also provides $150 million to tribal governments.

Salazar said the state is expecting to receive the money sometime this year. According to a list from AOGCC, the wells slated for clean up are Alaska Gulf 1; Rosetta 1-4 and Chickaloon 1, all located in the Cook Inlet Basin; Eureka 1 in the Copper River Basin; Shaviovik 1 in the Arctic Foothills; Finnegan 1 in the Alaska Peninsula Southeast; Gubik 1 on the Arctic Slope and a well known only as No. 25 in the Gulf of Alaska Basin.

“The Department is taking a thoughtful and methodical approach to implementing the orphaned oil and gas well program that aims to get money to states as quickly as possible while being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, said DOI Secretary Deb Haaland.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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