The White House on Monday announced a series of measures to curb methane emissions from oil and gas activity, including a $1.15 billion program for states to plug orphan oil and gas wells and to enforce tighter emissions rules for natural gas pipeline operators. 

The funds are part of a $4.7 billion orphan wells cleanup program authorized under the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), and would be made available via the Interior Department (DOI). 

“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. “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.”

Enforcing PIPES Act

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation (DOT) also has begun enforcement of Section 114 of the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act. PIPES  “will help ensure pipeline operators immediately begin to minimize their methane emissions and will help inform the development of a new rulemaking that will require pipeline operators to minimize their methane emissions across their pipeline systems,” officials said. “DOT will be convening a public webinar…to provide more information on the new enforcement activity in this space and make clear the agency’s expectations for immediate action to minimize methane emissions by the pipeline sector.”  

The announcements are in line with the Global Methane Pledge announced in September by the United States and the European Union. Signatories to the pledge now include more than 110 countries covering slightly under half of global methane emissions, which are targeting a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030 versus 2020 levels.

The latest funding announced “will be available to states to identify and plug orphaned wells, remediate and reclaim lands impacted by oil and gas development activities, and remove infrastructure associated with the wells,” officials said. “The 26 states eligible for this funding collectively represent nearly every state with documented orphan wells in the country.”

What Else Is Funded?

Other methane-focused funds in the BIL include $11.3 billion for abandoned mine land reclamation through DOI, Another $1 billion is earmarked for natural gas pipeline modernization at the DOT, the White House highlighted.

Around $100 million would be set aside for wastewater efficiency investments, including methane capture or transfers, at the Environmental Protection Agency. Another $30 million is for a Methane Reduction Infrastructure Initiative (MRII) to be undertaken by the Department of Energy and DOI.

“The MRII will enable the federal government, states and Tribes to develop a better understanding of the various challenges and opportunities to accelerating the detection, characterization, and mitigation of methane emissions from undocumented wells throughout the United States,” the White House said. “As a first step, the MRII will host a technical workshop to begin discussing research, development, demonstration, and deployment needs for the new Orphaned Wells Program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.” 

At the workshop, public and private-sector stakeholders will discuss “advanced remediation and methane detection technologies, tools and methods, and best practices that can be used for the prioritization of well plugging and abandonment activities,” according to officials. 

Finally, President Biden’s Interagency Work Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization would focus on economic diversification and community-driven solutions in historic coal, oil, and gas regions across the United States. 

A national workshop is planned “on the potential to reduce methane emissions from legacy fossil fuel infrastructure, including orphan oil and gas wells, while supporting new emerging industries including clean energy and manufacturing,” the White House said. “Leveraging and transforming legacy fossil fuel infrastructure opens up the opportunity for a skilled workforce to access new sources of long-term high-quality jobs and for states and communities to increase tax revenues.”