Interior Department Makes $55 Million Available To Clean Up Orphaned Wells on Tribal Lands

The money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will go to help Tribes plug orphaned oil and gas wells, combat climate change, and protect natural resources.

Old, orphaned oil well pump in farm field.  oil well abandonment, decommission, and oil production concept
Source: JJ Gouin/Getty Images

The US Department of the Interior announced final guidance for Tribal communities on how to apply for $55 million in grant funding and direct assistance available to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells across Indian Country. Funding through the program may be used 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 Interior 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 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% 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 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 Biden/Harris administration is committed to living up to our promises to Indian Country,” said Assistant Interior 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.”

In addition to providing funding to Tribes, approximately $645 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds have been awarded to states over the past two years to address orphaned wells on state and private lands, and nearly $150 million has been awarded to federal land managers to plug, remediate, and restore orphaned wells on public lands and waters.