Sen. Murkowski Directs $50 Million for Cleanup of Abandoned Wells

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, this week won the support of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for legislation that would provide $50 million for the cleanup of abandoned federal oil wells on current and former National Petroleum Reserve lands.

The energy panel on Tuesday approved the Helium Stewardship Act (S. 783), which is expected to generate $495 million over the next 10 years through the sale of crude helium from the Federal Helium Reserve.

NPR-A Legacy Wells

Murkowski included language in the bill to provide $50 million to cleanup abandoned wells on federal land, including more than 100 wells – originally drilled by the federal government – in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

“I’m pleased to win the support of the energy committee to help fund what is really an environmental crime committed against Alaska by the federal government. The abandoned wells in the NPR-A have been a problem that has been, for the most part, ignored by federal managers,” Murkowski said. “The excuse from BLM has been that it lacks the money to adequately address its responsibilities in Alaska. My hope is that this will remove that excuse and speed remediation of abandoned wells on federal land.”

In addition to the 100 legacy wells in Alaska, there are about 90 abandoned wells in the Lower 48 as well.

The bill would also extend the Secure Rural Schools program for one year, address the national parks maintenance backlog, reduce the deficit, reverse cuts to the Abandoned Mine Land program, and lower taxes on domestic minerals production.

From 1944 to 1981, the federal government drilled 136 exploratory wells in the NPR-A, and then abandoned them. The BLM is the Interior Department agency responsible for the wells. Only 16 of the 136 wells have been properly plugged. The remaining 120 wells are in various conditions of non-compliance with state law.