The Biden administration on Monday announced it will send $1.15 billion to states to plug thousands of orphan oil and gas wells that emit methane, a potent climate-changing greenhouse gas.
Methane is a main component of natural gas and accounts for 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The oil and gas industry represents nearly 30% of the country’s methane emissions.
Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon and doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere before it breaks down, which makes it a significant target for reducing global warming more quickly while simultaneously working to reduce other greenhouse gases.
The funding to plug oil and gas wells comes from President Joe Biden‘s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which allocated a total of $4.7 billion to form a new federal program to address the thousands of wells abandoned across the country.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement that the funding enables the government to “confront the legacy pollution and long-standing environmental injustices that for too long have plagued underrepresented communities.”
“We must act with urgency to address the more than one hundred thousand documented orphaned wells across the country and leave no community behind,” Haaland said. “This is good for our climate, for the health of our communities, and for American workers.”
The money will go to the 26 states that submitted notices of intent to the Department of Interior last year, including more than $100 million each for Pennsylvania and Texas. Roughly 9 million people live within a mile of an abandoned oil and gas well, some of which emit harmful gases that disproportionately impact low-income communities of color in the U.S.
“Addressing these existing wells is an important first step,” said Mahyar Sorour, deputy legislative director for the Sierra Club. “But unless it’s paired with bonding reform that requires oil and gas companies to cover these costs up front, the industry will continue to leave behind toxic wells on our public lands and expect taxpayers to cover the cost of cleaning them up.”
“We welcome the administration’s efforts to address orphaned wells,” said Bethany Williams, a spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade group. API last year released a new industry standard last year to address the closure and remediation of wells.
The White House last year helped move forward the Global Methane Pledge, a pact to cut methane emissions by 30% by the end of the decade. More than 100 nations have joined the pledge, including 15 of the world’s top 30 methane emitters, according to the White House.
The White House also described efforts to require pipeline operators to minimize methane leaks, conduct research to curb methane emissions from beef and dairy systems and create a new interagency working group to coordinate the measurement, monitoring and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions.