Interior Announces $55 Million To Clean Up Orphaned Oil and Gas Wells on Tribal Lands

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of the Interior announced final guidance for tribal communities on how to apply for $55 million in grant funding and direct assistance available under President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells across Indian Country. Funding through the program may be utilized to plug, remediate or reclaim orphaned wells on tribal lands, restore soil and habitat in degraded areas, decommission or remove associated infrastructure, identify and characterize additional undocumented wells on tribal land, and set up well-plugging capacity where not already established.  

“Indigenous communities have long been disproportionately burdened by environmental pollution,” said  Secretary Deb Haaland. “Through President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, we are tackling these toxic sites and honoring Tribal sovereignty by ensuring that tribes are able to make their own decisions about how to address the health and safety needs of their people, improve economic growth, and realize their vision for the future. We are doing this by working with tribes every step of the way, because we know tribal leaders know best how to care for their people.” 

“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to living up to our promises to Indian Country,” said  Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland. “As we steward these investments, we are working directly with tribes to ensure that their voices are integrated into decision-making processes and to provide tribal nations with the greatest possible autonomy to address the needs and priorities of their people. This is a key component of the President’s Investing in America agenda – building out the infrastructure to equip tribes now and into the future.” 

There are thousands of orphaned oil and gas wells on tribal lands, jeopardizing public health and safety by contaminating groundwater, seeping toxic chemicals, emitting dangerous pollutants, and harming wildlife. Methane leaking from many of these unplugged wells is a severe 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 provides a total of  $4.7 billion to address orphaned wells across the country, including $150 million specifically for tribal communities. In September, the Department awarded $40 million in grants to 10 tribes in the first phase of tribal orphaned well funding. This program also advances President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which set the goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal clean energy, climate, and other covered investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution. 

The final Phase Two Tribal Guidance announced provides instructions to tribes on how to apply for orphaned well grants or to request direct assistance from the Department, through “In Lieu of Grant” funding, to administer and carry out plugging, remediation and reclamation activities on the tribe’s behalf. The guidance reflects feedback from tribes on how to streamline and clarify application requirements.  

The Department has invited applications for tribal grants through May 14, 2024. Tribes may submit requests for Phase Two In Lieu of Grant assistance for review and award on a rolling basis through September 2024. Application requirements and technical assistance is available to tribes through the Orphaned Wells Program Office webpage and the Indian Energy Service Center-Bureau of Indian Affairs webpage.