Biden-Harris Administration Releases Draft Guidance on New Tribal Orphaned Well Program

$150 million investment from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help plug orphaned oil and gas wells on Tribal lands

Last edited 08/31/2022

Date: Wednesday, August 31, 2022


WASHINGTON — Informed by ongoing Tribal consultations, the Department of the Interior today released draft guidance to Tribes on how to apply for the first $50 million in grant funding available this year under President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to clean up orphaned oil and gas well sites on Tribal lands. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides a total of $4.7 billion to address orphaned wells across the country, including $150 million for Tribal communities. The Department will hold nation-to-nation consultations with Tribes later this month to further gather feedback on the draft guidance and the orphaned well program overall.

Several thousand orphaned oil and gas wells remain on Tribal lands, jeopardizing public health and safety by contaminating groundwater, seeping toxic chemicals, emitting harmful pollutants including methane and harming wildlife. Some of these wells are underwater, which creates an especially high risk of adverse impacts.

“The Department of the Interior is committed to helping Tribal communities address legacy pollution and long-standing environmental injustices. Through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are making historic investments to reclaim orphaned oil and gas wells on Tribal lands and restore habitats and ecosystems in the degraded areas,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “We have engaged in nation-to-nation consultations since the inception of this program and are eager to hear from Tribal leaders as we work to finalize this guidance.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes a historic $13 billion investment in Tribal communities—the largest investment in Tribal infrastructure ever. This includes funding to repair wastewater and sanitation systems, clean up legacy pollution, and invest in climate resilience such as funding community-driven relocation planning and adaption for Tribes impacted by rising seas, coastal erosion and storm surges.

The draft guidance released today provides draft instructions to Tribes on how to apply for orphaned well grants, as well as guidance on how Tribes can ensure activities funded under the program are putting people to work, protecting the environment, and safeguarding taxpayer money in a transparent and responsible manner.

Funding through the program may be utilized to plug, remediate or reclaim orphaned wells on Tribal land, restore soil and habitat in the degraded area, decommission or remove associated infrastructure, identify and characterize additional undocumented wells on Tribal land and set up well-plugging capacity where not already established. In lieu of grants and consistent with the Department’s trust responsibilities, Tribes may also choose for the agency to administer and carry out plugging, remediation and reclamation activities on the Tribe’s behalf.

Comments on the guidance can be emailed to by 11:59 PM ET on October 24, 2022, and will help inform any changes moving forward. Consultation sessions will be held on Tuesday September 27 and Thursday September 29 from 1pm to 3pm ET. Registration is available on the Bureau of Indian Affairs website.


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