By Cassidy Mudd
The U.S. Department of the Interior awarded Oklahoma an initial $25 million to help address legacy pollution caused by orphaned oil and gas wells left abandoned across the state.
The funds will be utilized to plug nearly 1,200 documented, orphaned wells on state, federal, private, and tribal lands.
Not only will the program help to seal the abandoned wells, it will be used to remediate the land around the well.
Some wells stretch tens of thousands of feet beneath the surface — while others have rusting tanks that leak methane.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (right) toured Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oklahoma in July.
Department of the Interior Infrastructure Coordinator Winnie Stachelberg said there are a number of abandoned oil and gas wells in Oklahoma — but some of the most powerful stories can be found at the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge.
"There was a huge abandoned oil well that was leaching methane oil into the land around it which then fed into the streams," Stachelberg said. "So anyone that was fishing was going to run into the toxicity in the water."
Stachelberg said the area is also home to a number of different wildlife species who have been negatively impacted by the abandoned well.
White House Infrastructure Coordinator and Senior Advisor to the President Mitch Landrieu said he's seen different parts of Oklahoma littered by the remains of an industry that walked away from its commitment to sustainability.
"These things are not just in remote areas where folks don't live by," Landrieu explained. "These things are in people's front yards and backyards, and streams where kids play and people fish, and it is really a travesty that they've been left behind."
Landrieu said state oil and gas regulators intend to work with other state agencies to identify tracks in overburdened communities that need remediation. Officials will also be working closely with federally recognized tribes to plug wells abandoned within their historic boundaries.
Work on the state's orphaned oil and gas wells will start as early as the first of October.