Community Environment

The U.S. The Department of the Interior has awarded Kentucky $25 million to cap abandoned oil and gas wells. 

The funding, announced last week, is part of a $1.15 billion investment included in President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to reclaim orphaned wells around the country.

“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is enabling us to confront long-standing environmental injustices by making a historic investment to plug orphaned wells throughout the country,” Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

More than 14,000 of these so-called “orphan” wells litter the state, leaking toxic chemicals and emitting planet-warming gases like methane and carbon dioxide. 

Last year the The Environmental Defense Fund released a report finding more than 81,000 across the country; nearly a fifth of them are in Kentucky. 

Together, abandoned wells emit greenhouse gases equivalent to 7 to 20 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. They also pollute natural areas and communities with toxic chemicals that can affect water, air and soil. 

Interior Department officials said Kentucky will use the funds to cap up to 1,200 wells. Contractors will remove contaminated soil, abandoned storage tanks and pipelines.  

The funding will also be used to hire up to eight new staff members, as well as purchase vehicles, computers and monitoring equipment to help oversee the reclamation projects. 

“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 in the statement.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.