Murkowski: Resolution of Helium Reserve Provides Funding for Alaska Priorities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today applauded Senate passage of the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act to end the federal government’s role in the sale of helium, a product essential to everything from medical imaging equipment and semiconductor manufacturing to rocket engines and precision welding.

“Passage of this bipartisan legislation provides a commonsense and market-based approach to managing the helium reserve as the federal government’s role is brought to an end,” Murkowski said. “The bill both protects the businesses that depend on helium as a raw material and ensures taxpayers receive a fair return on this natural resource.”

The substitute amendment to the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act (H.R. 527) will generate approximately $500 million in revenue over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 97-2.

The legislation includes the following funding for Alaska:

  • Extends for one year the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Program, which provides $16 million for roads and schools for Southeast communities.
  • Provides $50 million for fiscal year 2018 to pay the federal share of challenge cost-share agreements for deferred maintenance projects and to correct deficiencies in National Park Service infrastructure nationwide.
  • Provides $50 million to remediate, reclaim, and close abandoned oil and gas wells on current or former National Petroleum Reserve land.

From 1944 to 1981, the federal government drilled 136 exploratory wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and then abandoned them. So far, only 16 of the wells have been properly plugged and remediated. The remaining wells are in various conditions of non-compliance with state law.

“I’m pleased to see the Senate approve funding for what is really an environmental crime committed against Alaska by the federal government,” Murkowski said. “The abandoned wells in the NPR-A have been ignored for far too long by federal land managers, who claim they lack the money to adequately address the issue. My hope is that this will remove that excuse and resolve this issue once and for all.”

According to the Department of the Interior, abandoned wells requiring clean-up can be found in California, Wyoming, Alaska, Colorado, and Utah.