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WASHINGTON — The Department of the Interior announced final guidance for tribes on how to apply for the first $50 million in grant funding available under President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells. 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides a total of $4.7 billion to address orphaned wells across the country, including $150 million for tribal communities over five years. The final guidance is the result of a 60-day nation-to-nation consultation process.

Several thousand orphaned oil and gas wells dot the tribal landscape, 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.

“Through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are making historic investments to reclaim orphaned oil and gas wells on Tribal lands and address long-standing environmental injustices left behind by extractive industries,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “As part of our treaty and trust responsibility, we have engaged in nation-to-nation consultations since the inception of this program so we can assist tribal nations in revitalizing their communities and help ensure future generations will have clear air, drinkable water, fertile soil and an overall good quality of life.”

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The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $13 billion to tribal communities, the largest-ever investment in tribal infrastructure. The law 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 adaptation for tribes affected by rising seas, coastal erosion and storm surges.

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, tribes may also choose for the agency to administer and carry out plugging, remediation and reclamation activities on the tribe’s behalf.

The final guidance provides instructions 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.

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