The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed into law in November 2021, provided $560 million (out of $4.7 billion) in August 2022 in Initial federal grants to 24 states, funding intended to hasten plugging and remediation of orphaned and abandoned wells. Evaluation and ranking of well closings based on environmental hazards, water contamination, and GHG emissions were recommended (pre-and post-mitigation), but not required. Twenty-four states were eligible for funding: of these 22 received $25 million each and two (Arkansas and Mississippi) received $5 million each.
Based on the Initial grant applications and awards, 15 states planned to establish methane measuring capability, and six states planned to conduct before and after measurements of methane at well remediation sites. Several states planned to prioritize small business and community employment for well closures using grant funds, while 12 others prioritized closing wells in disadvantaged communities.
The DOI estimates that this Initial funding helped states remediate over 4,000 orphaned wells.
In January 2023, the Orphaned Wells Program Office was established to manage the funding – issuing, administering, and overseeing the grants.
There are three grant types in the BIL program:
In July 2023, DOI guidance for Phase I Formula grants was published. This document provides instructions for applying, definitions of the funded activities, and requirements for performing the work. A list of eligible states is also part of the guidance. The application deadline is December 31, 2023.
The new round of grants requires a detailed Work Plan, with new mandatory components – methane measurement, both before and after plugging and remediation work. Also required is a description of the state’s program for prioritizing orphaned/abandoned well closures based on “threats to public health and safety, environmental harm – particularly harms due to methane emissions – and other land use priorities.”
Many states are having difficulty securing experienced crews to perform the plugging mitigation work, as the oil industry is experiencing a cyclical upswing, keeping workers busy. Some remote locations will be costly to reach with equipment and personnel. Ensuring emissions are accurately calculated and verifiably eliminated may be time-consuming and costly. Timelines can be tight for grant spending, pushing state/company capabilities to complete closures.
With the new Formula Phase I grant requirements, many more variables must be considered:
States need to invest in technologies to measure methane and ensure that the work performed with grant funding can be verified to have reduced or eliminated fugitive methane emissions. Simply filling orphaned wells with cement is not enough: States need innovative solutions to protect environmental and community health.
While not all wells leak outside the wellbore, the most problematic do. These wells suffering from annular pressure/flow are some of the most impactful in terms of emissions reduction, but also the most difficult to remediate. BioSqueeze utilizes revolutionary biomineralization technology that permanently seals leakage pathways, preventing the gasses from escaping the well.