US Announces $80 Million To Plug Orphaned Wells in Texas

The funding comes from the Investing in America agenda with the goal of addressing legacy pollution.

Rural Texas - Rusty abandonded oil pumps
Source: Martina Birnbaum/Getty Images

The US Department of the Interior announced a nearly $80 million investment through the Investing in America agenda for Texas to continue work plugging, capping, and reclaiming orphaned oil and gas wells across the state. This investment is the first Phase 1 formula grant awarded since the department announced last July the availability of $660 million to 26 states to clean up legacy pollution sites.

“President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is creating jobs and revitalizing local economies while cleaning up harmful legacy pollution sites throughout the country,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “I’ve seen many of these toxic sites firsthand, including abandoned wells outside Houston that were actively leaking oil and needed to be urgently addressed. With this historic funding, Texas can continue the progress it has made plugging wells over the last year. These investments are good for our climate, for the health of our communities, and for American workers.”

The $80 million award is the first in what is expected to be a series of annual formula grant awards that will total almost $320 million for Texas to plug and reclaim orphaned wells. As part of its award, Texas will measure methane emissions from orphaned wells the state plugs, screen for groundwater and surface water effects, and prioritize cleaning up wells near overburdened, low-income, and Tribal communities. This award also advances President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which set a goal that 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution.

Orphaned oil and gas wells are polluting backyards, recreation areas, and community spaces across the country. Many of these unplugged wells pose serious health and safety threats by contaminating groundwater, releasing toxic air pollutants, and leaking methane — a “super pollutant” that is a significant cause of climate change and many times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Plugging orphaned wells also supports broader Biden-Harris Administration efforts under the US Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan.

Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Interior Department is delivering the largest investment in tackling legacy pollution in American history, including $4.7 billion to plug orphaned wells. In August 2022, the Interior Department awarded $560 million in initial grant funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to 24 states, including $25 million to Texas, to begin work plugging and cleaning up orphaned wells nationwide. Since then, states have plugged nearly 6,000 wells, including 730 in Texas, and reduced approximately 11,530 metric tons of potential methane emissions. Across the country, investments through the new program are estimated to have supported 7,213 jobs and contributed over $900 million over the last two fiscal years. Last January, Haaland established the Orphaned Wells Program Office to ensure effective, accountable, and efficient implementation of these investments.

In addition to formula grants, states are also eligible for performance grants under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.