WASHINGTON (CN) — The Biden administration announced Monday it would release more than $1 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law to help states cap off abandoned oil and gas wells that leak methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
The grants will go to 26 states that requested funds from the Department of Interior last year, marking the first allocation of money from the $4.7 billion program created under the infrastructure package to clean up and siphon off orphaned wells.
Orphaned wells are sites of previous oil or gas excavation abandoned by companies that have since closed up shop or no longer have a legal responsibility to oversee the wells.
These sites can leak pollution into neighboring communities, and continue to spew methane — a gas that spends less time in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but contributes to warming at a quicker rate.
"Many of these orphaned wells are located in rural communities, environmental justice communities and communities of color that have suffered from years of divestment," the White House said in a statement. "Plugging these wells will not only reduce methane emissions and stop dangerous pollution, but it will create good-paying, union jobs and spur economic revitalization, especially in hard-hit energy communities.
There are more than 130,000 documented orphaned wells in the United States, according to research by the Department of Interior.
The White House said the funds will allow states to identify and cap off orphaned wells and restore land used by the oil and gas industries.
Grants to states begin at $25 million to Alabama and go up to $107.5 million to address abandoned wells in Texas, with more funds to be distributed in the coming months and years.
“We must act with urgency to address the more than one hundred thousand documented orphaned wells across the country and leave no community behind. This is good for our climate, for the health of our communities, and for American workers," Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement.
The White House also announced a slate of other initiatives targeting methane emissions Monday, including $11 billion for addressing abandoned mines, $1 billion for updating natural gas pipelines, and $100 million in investments to increase the efficiency of wastewater, all funded by the bipartisan infrastructure package.
The Biden administration's focus on reducing methane emissions comes after the United States played a pivotal role in last year's creation of the Global Methane Pledge — in which more than 100 countries committed to curbing methane emissions 30% by 2030.
That multinational promise spurred the U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan, a Biden administration strategy to cut methane emissions, which sparked many of the programs included in the bipartisan infrastructure deal.
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