Interior Awards $19M Grant to Osage Nation for Orphaned Well Cleanup

Osage Reservation ranch

PAWHUSKA, OK – The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Orphaned Wells Program Office has awarded the Osage Nation’s Office of Self-Governance two grants – the Orphaned Well Program Development Grant and the Orphaned Wells Program Implementation Grant – totaling $19,100,414 to continue plugging orphaned, also known as abandoned, wells on the Osage Nation reservation. Both awards are from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds and will be implemented by the Osage Nation Department of Natural Resources.

The Orphaned Wells Program Implementation Grant ($18,100,414) is part of a larger five-year award totaling $91,000,000, which Osage Nation has applied to receive. The award comes on the heels of a successful $4,150,348 that was a U.S. Congress special appropriation supported by local congressional representatives. The funding enabled the Osage Nation to develop an established well-plugging program. Under this appropriation, the Osage Minerals Council successfully plugged 88 orphaned wells, however, findings show a significant amount of hazards remain on the Osage Nation reservation. 

“We greatly appreciate this federal administration for stepping in with these funds after a history of assault and neglect on our land,” said Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear. “The program has proven that we are able to do what needs to be done when given the resources to do it. This program stops the pollution of our land and harmful chemicals leaking into the environment. Our goal is to be a model for how federal and tribal governments can work together in a non-partisan way to benefit the greater good for all.” 

Orphaned wells throughout the Osage Nation reservation have leaked methane carbon into the atmosphere for years. Through leases provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, oil and gas drillers have come to the Osage Nation reservation in search of profit, but left an environmental hazard that the Osage Nation has stepped in to clean up. These wells may have been deactivated because of economic viability, failure to transfer ownership, or neglect and thus no longer have legal owners responsible for their care.

The Orphaned Well Program Development Grant totals $1,000,000 and will be used specifically to hire contractors to develop a restoration or remediation plan for properties owned by the Osage Nation or Osage tribal members that have orphaned wells present. The remediation plans will include details on the number of orphaned wells on the property, the environmental damage caused by these wells, and estimated costs to restore the land. The contractors will inspect the property in greater detail by using aerial photos and on-the-ground surveys for potential environmental impairment, and the approximated boundaries of the contaminated areas will be mapped. The data gathered will be used to help prioritize areas with the greatest environmental risk that will be remediated with the Orphaned Well Implementation grant funds. The project period for these funds is for two years, from 10/1/2023 to 9/30/2025.

The Orphaned Well Program Implementation Grant totals $18,100,414 and will plug, remediate, and restore orphaned wells on the Osage reservation. There are more than 43,000 wellbores on the Osage reservation, including over 1,600 documented orphaned wells. The Osage Nation anticipates plugging 290 orphaned wells with this round of funding. The priority for orphaned well plugging is to address the “emergency” wells first and non-emergency wells second. An emergency well is an abandoned well that poses a risk to human health and/or the environment due to the identified leak. With this funding, the Osage Nation can protect lands and waters while addressing environmental and health hazards caused by these orphaned wells on the Osage reservation. The project period for these funds is for one year, from 10/1/2023 to 9/30/2024.

The Osage Agency is designated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to administer the leasing and development of the 1.45 million-acre Osage Mineral Estate and oversee more than 135,000 acres of trust and restricted lands in Osage County, OK.