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Congress approves $50M for legacy wells

Posted: September 27, 2013 - 12:03am

JUNEAU — Congress has approved legislation providing $50 million to clean up abandoned oil and gas wells on current or former National Petroleum Reserve land.

Most of that money is expected to end up in Alaska, where state officials and Alaska’s congressional delegation have been pushing for the cleanup and reclamation of old well sites in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management manages the reserve, where more than 130 wells were drilled under the federal government’s direction as part of an exploratory oil and gas program from the 1940s to the 1980s.

BLM this week released a plan identifying 50 abandoned wells in the Alaska Arctic that it believes require cleanup by the agency. Of those, 16 were deemed high-priority sites.

Addressing one well alone can cost millions of dollars. BLM-Alaska has said it has secured about $86 million to plug 18 legacy wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska since 2002.

President Barack Obama, in his budget plan, had proposed temporarily halting revenue-sharing payments to Alaska from oil and gas development in the reserve. Instead, they would divert the payments to a new fund that would supplement BLM spending and address BLM projects, including the cleanup of legacy well sites. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski called that plan “dead on arrival.”

The $50 million is expected to come over about five years from the sale of crude helium under the Helium Stewardship Act, which passed the Senate on Thursday after passing the House a day earlier. Murkowski said Thursday that she fought “tooth and nail” to get that language included, with some colleagues wanting to put all the money from the helium sale to deficit reduction. Murkowski said she wants to reduce the deficit, but she believes the government has obligations to address.

Her office said the bill also extends the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination program, which provides $16 million for roads and schools for southeast Alaska communities. It also provides funding for deferred maintenance projects in the National Park system.

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