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Ohio to use $25 million in federal funds to cap orphaned wells

Orphaned well
J.J. Gouin
Orphaned well

Preparations are under way for Ohio to start plugging abandoned oil and gas wells using $25 million in federal funds, approved in the new infrastructure bill.

The state has said it will utilize this funding to plug between 170 and 320 “orphaned” wells, many of which are located in the Appalachian region.

Amy Townsend-Small, professor of environmental science at the University of Cincinnati, said capping orphaned wells will prevent methane emissions and create jobs for the teams doing the work.

“And many of the wells that ODNR prioritizes for plugging are near homes or schools, things like that. So that'll be good. So those wells will be the first ones to be plugged,” Townsend-Small said.

Townsend-Small, who has studied and tracked the locations of orphaned wells for years, said these areas were abandoned by drilling companies that never came back to cap the wells. She said this can lead to leaking natural gas, oil, or produced water which can be harmful to the atmosphere and even risk fire.

Since most of the wells are located in Appalachia, Townsend-Small said this is also an environmental justice issue – adding that people in the region can feel left behind by policymakers.

“Yeah. This is a big opportunity to prioritize environmental justice. So people that are dealing with orphaned wells affecting their health or their water, hopefully they'll be prioritized,” said Townsend-Small.

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the money will also be used to research how to track and measure methane as part of the grant reporting. Ohio is planning to sample private and public water supplies that are within 500 feet of abandoned wells. Those samples will be taken before and after the well is plugged.

Deb Haaland, U.S. Department of the Interior secretary, said the infrastructure deal enables the country to “confront long-standing environmental injustices” by investing in plugging orphaned wells.

“At the department of the interior, we are working on multiple fronts to clean up these sites as quick as we can by investing in efforts on federal lands and partnering with states and Tribes to leave no community behind,” Haaland said.

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