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Federal funding to help Illinois address up to 20 percent of rural orphaned oil, gas wells

Federal infrastructure funding will help protect the environment while supporting rural jobs

Funding from President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will allow Illinois to begin plugging, capping and reclaiming up to 20 percent of the orphaned oil and gas wells in rural communities around the state, Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) announced on Aug. 26.

The U.S. Department of Interior has as awarded an initial $560 million to 24 states to begin plugging and remediating more than 10,000 high-priority well sites across the country. Illinois will receive $25 million to support its remediation efforts.

“Orphaned oil and gas wells are environmental and safety hazards that threaten the wellbeing of our rural communities,” said Pritzker. “We appreciate that the Biden Administration approved our efforts to award Illinois significant funding to cap and reclaim these wells — safeguarding Illinois families, generating good-paying union jobs, and protecting our environment from disastrous methane leaks in the process. These are the kind of investments that create a healthier, more sustainable state and nation.”

“As chair of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, I know our rural communities deserve effective solutions that address the unique issues impacting these vibrant regions of Illinois. The federal Orphaned Well Program provides a step forward by taking action on abandoned oil and gas wells that can be hazardous to health and safety,” said Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton. “From creating economic opportunities to combat pollution to safeguarding the health of communities, this $25 million in grant funding will take us far in protecting the environment and the people that make southern Illinois and other impacted areas so great.”

IDNR’s Office of Oil and Gas Resource Management will oversee the work in Illinois, which has more than 4,000 orphaned oil wells. The federal infrastructure investment will enable IDNR to address 600 to 800 of the well sites, while freeing up state funds for other needs.

The federal funding will also be used to measure and track methane emissions and contamination in groundwater and surface water. Additionally, it will allow Illinois to increase its well plugging capacity with the purchase of safety equipment, computers, vehicles, gas detectors and a Forward Looking InfraRed camera, among other items, all of which will be used to plug documented wells and locate undocumented wells throughout the state that will be plugged with Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding in the upcoming years.

“This investment will help many Illinois landowners by freeing up their ground for more productive farming and recreation, and it will help protect the groundwater from contamination,” said IDNR Director Colleen Callahan. “Rather than having a rusted, inoperable well on their property, this effort will ensure they no longer have to farm around or look at an eyesore on the land.”

The historic investments to clean up these hazardous sites will create good-paying union jobs and catalyze economic growth and revitalization. Methane has been found to leak from unplugged wells, creating a serious safety hazard and a significant cause of climate change. Methane is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Millions of Americans across the country live within a mile of orphaned oil or gas wells, which pollute backyards, recreation areas and community spaces, and have been known to contaminate groundwater. Methane leaking from many of the unplugged wells is a serious safety hazard and a significant cause of climate change, being more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Plugging orphaned wells will help advance the goals of the U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan, as well as the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, which focuses on spurring economic revitalization in hard-hit energy communities.

The Biden Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law delivers the largest investment in tackling legacy pollution in American history, including through a $4.7 billion investment to plug orphaned wells. These legacy pollution sites are environmental hazards and jeopardize public health and safety by contaminating groundwater, emitting noxious gases and methane, littering the landscape with rusted and dangerous equipment, and harming wildlife.

For more information about IDNR’s Office of Oil and Gas Resource Management, visit https://bit.ly/IDNROOGR.

 

Abandoned oil well, shown.
(Image source: Environ. Sci. Technol. 2021, 55, 15, 10224-10230)

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