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• Documents and news releases confirm that the Interior Department has authorized $25 million under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law as an initial grant for capping orphan wells.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was one of the lawmakers who helped craft the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which allocates $1.2 trillion to fund highways, transit, rail, broadband access, clean water and electric grid improvements. President Joe Biden signed the act into law in November 2021.
About nine months after the bill was enacted, Manchin took a victory lap on Twitter, spotlighting one of the law’s benefits for his home state.
"West Virginia will receive $25M for 160 orphaned well clean-up projects across the state," Manchin tweeted Aug. 26. "This funding from my Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will make our communities safer and healthier while revitalizing rural economies throughout WV."
We decided to take a closer look at the accuracy of Manchin’s tweet.
Orphaned wells are abandoned oil and gas wells that have been left unattended by companies that cannot afford to cap them. Officials say these wells are not just an eyesore but can cause methane leaks and contaminate water supplies, causing serious health problems for people living nearby.
Cleaning up orphan wells is only one of the many projects included in the infrastructure law. One of the ways that states, such as West Virginia, can benefit from the law is to apply for funding to remediate orphan wells on state land, or on private land within the state.
Under this provision, states can initially request up to $25 million. States promise to use at least 90% of this funding for contracts and grants to remediate the sites, and to spend the money within one year of its receipt.
Erin Heeter, a Manchin spokesperson, confirmed that the state applied to receiver $25 million. She also presented documentation that the U.S. Interior Department had authorized West Virginia’s request.
The Interior Department document was dated Aug. 24, two days before Manchin’s tweet. It authorizes $25 million to be spent by the state Department of Environmental Protection through Sept. 30, 2023.
It takes an average of about $55,000 to cap an orphan well with a material such as concrete, so it should be possible to cap at least 160 wells with the Interior Department’s allocation. In its public announcement of the grants, the Interior Department said it expects West Virginia to cap 160 orphan wells with this round of funding.
The federal money will be used not only to remediate the 160 known wells but also can be applied to wells that have not yet been identified.
West Virginia could receive additional money for orphan wells in the future, under different provisions of the law.
Manchin tweeted that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is on track to provide West Virginia with "$25M for 160 Orphaned Well Clean-up Projects."
Manchin’s office shared a document with PolitiFact West Virginia confirming that the Interior Department has authorized $25 million under the law for an initial grant to remediate orphan wells.
We rate Manchin’s statement True.
Joe Manchin, tweet, Aug. 26, 2022
U.S. Interior Department grant authorization, accessed Oct. 4, 2022
U.S. Interior Department, "Through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, 24 States Set to Begin Plugging Over 10,000 Orphaned Wells," Aug. 25, 2022
Brookings Institution, "America has an Infrastructure Bill. What happens next?" accessed Sept. 20, 2022
Brookings Institution, "Introducing the Brookings Federal Infrastructure Hub," accessed Sep. 20t, 2022
West Virginia Public Broadcasting, "West Virginia, surrounding states get millions to cap oil, gas wells," accessed Sept. 20, 2022
Stateline.org, "Why ‘orphan oil and gas wells are a growing problem for states," July 9, 2018
Email interview with Erin Heeter, spokesperson for Joe Manchin, Sept. 15, 2022
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