Abandoned wells in Webster County, one leaking, photographed last year. (Photo Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet)
A new influx of federal money is planned to plug and remediate more than 100 abandoned oil and gas well sites in the Daniel Boone National Forest, a part of a broader effort to address so-called “orphan” wells on federal lands and waters across the country.
A release Thursday from the U.S. Department of the Interior stated $63.8 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law would go toward plugging abandoned oil and gas wells that often leak methane, a potent heat-trapping greenhouse gas, on federal land including national wildlife refuges, national forests and national recreation areas.
Department Secretary Deb Haaland in a statement said past decades of drilling had “left behind thousands of non-producing wells that now threaten the health and wellbeing of our communities, our lands, and our waters.”
“This funding will put Americans to work in good-paying jobs, while also fueling collaboration across a broad coalition of stakeholders and engaging communities to work toward sustainable stewardship of the nation’s treasured lands and waters,” Haaland said.
The release stated the well-plugging projects in the Daniel Boone National Forest would include “post-plugging activities” such as “reclamation, remediation, equipment removal, inventory.”
A spokesperson for Daniel Boone National Forest did not immediately respond to a request from the Lantern asking for more detail about the projects.
Kentucky has been using a $25 million federal grant received last year to hire contractors to plug more than 1,000 such “orphan” wells throughout the state. Some of the wells plugged by that effort have helped open to the public over 500 acres of a wildlife management area in Pulaski County that had previously been off limits due to safety concerns created by the wells.
State and federal efforts to plug wells are only scratching the surface of the problem, according to a report by the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy and research group, that found Kentucky had more than 14,000 documented abandoned oil and gas wells across the state.
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