ND gets more federal funds to cap abandoned wells

A new round of federal funding is coming North Dakota’s way to help plug dozens of abandoned oil wells.

The U.S. Department of the Interior this week awarded $25 million to North Dakota to respond to what is described as “legacy pollution.”

With the financial boost, 46 orphaned oil and gas wells will be plugged, along with remediation work at more than 270 contaminated sites. The funding is tied to the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Curtis Shuck, chairman of the Well Done Foundation, which works with states on capping neglected wells no longer in operation, said this work is vital in reducing negative environmental impacts, such as lingering methane leaks.

“(At) the end of the day, when we walk away from a project, it’s hopefully like it was never there,” Shuck said.

Beyond protecting air and water resources, federal officials say the projects create good-paying union jobs and pave the way for economic growth. A number of conservation groups said while the efforts are needed, oil companies abandoning sites are being let off the hook. At the very least, they argued more regulations are needed to prevent well abandonment.

On the economic front, Shuck pointed out restoring the land underneath wells benefits the agricultural sector by giving farmers more acreage to work with.

“In places like North Dakota, or in Montana where we started, the farmer doesn’t have to play dodge ball,” Shuck said.

He added farmers can be more efficient with their operational costs by not having to plow around an abandoned well.

Observers said despite enhanced efforts to address the issue, the U.S. has a lot of catching up to do with roughly 130,000 documented orphaned wells out on the landscape. In the initial round of program funding, North Dakota used its share to plug 73 wells.


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