Biden administration delegation visits Four Corners to talk of orphan wells, clean energy

John R. Moses
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON – A visit to the Four Corners region by Biden Administration officials set loose a flurry of announcements from federal agencies about federal financial assistance for closing down abandoned extraction wells and programs aimed at revitalizing coal-dependent communities.

The delegation’s visit also brought together the White House’s Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, which met with area stakeholders in Farmington on Aug. 25 for a roundtable discussion.

The delegation toured oil extraction sites near the San Juan Generating Station before the roundtable meeting began. One participant said he was glad he had the opportunity to meet with the group.

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“I appreciate the commitment of Secretary Haaland and the Biden-Harris Administration to having a seat at the table for tribal nations,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement after the meeting. “The Navajo Nation has been at the forefront of the energy transition initiatives in the southwest with the closure of several power generating stations in our region. Through these discussions with our federal partners and others we continue on the path to cleaner energy development and we have several solar facilities that are in operation and more that are being developed on the Navajo Nation.”

Nez said the tribe “looks forward to continuing to work together on more energy initiatives that produce cleaner energy, jobs, and benefits for our communities.”

In addition to the roundtable, the Working Group announced the creation of the Four Corners Rapid Response Team, which is intended to “support energy communities in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah,” the group said in a news release.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk spoke on Aug. 25 during a visit to the Four Corners region.

“Energy workers and communities have powered communities for generations,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk. “We are thrilled that the Biden-Harris Administration has made billions in investments available to help these communities realize new economic activities that are equitable and accessible to all.”

The roundtable held at the San Juan College School of Energy was not open to the general public.

The Working Group’s news release said the discussion was intended to “address challenges facing energy communities and identify opportunities to support energy and economic transition in the Four Corners region and discuss the opportunities for energy communities in the newly enacted Inflation Reduction Act.”

Prior to the event the delegation toured the Chuza oil and gas wells and the San Juan Solar project, which is near the San Juan Generating Station in Waterflow.

The department said the delegation would seek to “highlight how historic investments from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will address legacy pollution, invest in new clean energy projects, and lower energy costs for working families,” the Department of the Interior said in a news release.

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The visiting group included Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese, Deputy White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi, Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk, and Executive Director of the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization Brian Anderson.

Plugging abandoned wells

There are 200 orphaned wells across New Mexico that will be eligible for remediation under a Department of the Interior award of from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Interior department announced Aug. 25.

The money will go to 24 states so they can begin plugging, capping and reclaiming orphaned oil and gas wells, the news release said.

“Today’s investment is part of an overall $1.15 billion in Phase One funding announced in January by the Department for states to plug and remediate orphaned wells,” the department stated in an embargoed news release. “States will receive additional formula funding dollars in the coming months.”

The department said another $33 million was set aside to plug 277 wells on federal public lands and “the Tribal orphaned well grant program is being informed by ongoing Tribal consultations and listening sessions.”

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland led a delegation to the Four Corners region Aug. 25 to tour local sites and meet with regional stakeholders about the Biden Administration's clean energy efforts.

The announcement was made by the department as Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and a group of Biden administration officials toured the Farmington area on Aug. 25, meeting with people and groups they say will benefit from the administration’s clean energy and coal transition policies.

“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is enabling us to confront long-standing environmental injustices by making a historic investment to plug orphaned wells throughout the country,” said Haaland. “At the Department of the Interior, we are working on multiple fronts to clean up these sites as quickly as we can by investing in efforts on federal lands and partnering with states and Tribes to leave no community behind. Today’s announcement is exciting progress toward what we will accomplish together through this historic Law.”

Planning for the orphaned well cleanups has been going on for months.

States had identified more than 129,000 orphaned wells on state and private land as of last year, “though this number will grow as Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding becomes available for further records research, more field equipment, improved well location techniques, and increased site inspections and data collection nationwide,” the release stated.