Park service to plug and clean orphaned well near Gauley River

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Park service to plug and clean orphaned well near Gauley River
The park will re-seed the half-acre pad where the well currently stands. (Photo courtesy National Park Service)

The National Park Service has received approximately $9.8 million in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to plug, remediate, and reclaim abandoned oil and gas well sites in national parks, including the Gauley River National Recreation Area.

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Overall, bureaus within the U.S. departments of the interior and agriculture will address 277 high-priority wells that pose threats to human health and safety, the climate, wildlife, and natural resources, according to park service director Chuck Sams.

“Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enables us to tackle legacy pollution issues caused by past extraction activities in national parks,” Sams said.

“Closing and reclaiming abandoned oil and gas wells will alleviate these environmental hazards that jeopardize health and safety by contaminating groundwater, emitting noxious gases, and littering the landscape.”

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In the Gauley River National Recreation Area, an orphaned well will be plugged with cement, capped, and the associated equipment will be taken away, according to Dave Bieri, District Supervisor of Interpretation for the park service in southern West Virginia.

Three feet of protruding pipe will be left standing at the site, and the access road will be reseeded with native grasses by spring 2023. This natural gas well, one of about 20 in the park, dates from the 1950s and has been inactive for around 20 years.

Some wells in the park remain active with mineral rights in private ownership while surface land is under federal ownership, Bieri said.

The National Park Service estimates that between 150 and 180 wells in parks throughout the country are abandoned or orphaned and will need to be plugged and reclaimed. The allocation is part of $250 million provided by the law to clean up orphaned wells and well sites on federal public lands, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, and national forests.

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Fiscal Year 2022 funding will be distributed to four agencies for work in nine states—the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the USDA Forest Service.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a $1 trillion investment in America’s infrastructure that will rebuild America’s roads and bridges, tackle the climate crisis, and advance environmental justice. The infusion of funds will make meaningful progress in addressing environmental and infrastructure concerns in national parks, including wildland fire safety/restoration efforts, climate crisis intervention, legacy pollution eradication, and clean energy enhancements.

Containing $21 billion for legacy pollution clean-up, the law provides the largest investment in American history to clean Superfund and brownfield sites, reclaim abandoned mines, and cap orphaned oil and gas wells.

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