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EGLE seeks federal funds to seal improperly abandoned oil and gas wells in Lower Peninsula
March 29, 2022
Although most visitors to Michigan don't expect to see a vast landscape of oil wells like Texas or other western states, there has been an active oil and gas industry in the state for nearly a century. In 2020 Michigan ranked 18th for oil production in the United States and there have been roughly 50,000 wells drilled in the state since 1925. Hundreds of those are abandoned and improperly sealed.
That's why the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is seeking $32 million in federal funding over the next several years to properly seal hundreds of improperly abandoned or "orphaned" oil and gas wells across the lower peninsula.
Orphaned wells, either unplugged or improperly plugged, can leach contaminants into surrounding lands and waters, create safety hazards on the ground, prevent lands from being used for recreation or other productive purposes. These wells can also leak methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere contributing to climate change.
There are currently 444 documented orphan well sites in Michigan. The state established an Orphan Well Fund in 1994 dedicating $1 million a year to safely plugging these abandoned wells, but at current rates, it would take roughly 40 years to plug this huge backlog of wells.
EGLE's Oil Gas and Minerals Division (OGMD) is seeking a six-fold funding increase its Orphan Well Program annual funding by leveraging newly available federal dollars available through the recently created Orphaned Well Site Plugging, Remediation, and Restoration (OWSPRR) program. Established in November of 2021, the OWSPRR program is primarily administered by the US Department of Interior and applies to plugging and remediating well sites on both state and private lands.
Michigan is one of 26 states that have submitted a Notice of Intent (NOI) to apply for federal grants under the OWSPRR program. According to Adam Wygant, director and state geologist with EGLE's OGMD, Michigan is already received an indication that it will qualify for $5.8 million under the federal grant program and OGMD intends to apply for a larger $25 million grant in May of this year.
"EGLE OGMD is very excited about this funding opportunity to reduce current and future environmental risk associated with orphaned wells and see the economic impact that the funding was intended to create," Wygant said.
Depending on how much funding Michigan ultimately secures from this new federal program, OGMD plans to add staff to accelerate its Orphan Well Program between now 2030. The OWP has historically operated with two orphan well geology specialists. The OGMD has recently added a third full time orphan well geology specialist and plans to add a department analysist to assist with billing and accounting associated with the orphan well plugging contracts and coordination with grant specialists for federal reporting. The division is seeking the necessary spending authority appropriation and approval of the full-time equivalent positions believed to be necessary to implement the increased program.
Caption: Orphan well plugging in Midland County.