Report: 16,000 jobs might be created in Appalachia by plugging orphan wells

The influx of federal taxpayer dollars to address orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells presents a promising opportunity for the Appalachian region. In the coming decades, this investment has the potential to create thousands of new jobs.

According to a report by the Ohio River Valley Institute, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky have the potential to generate 13,000-16,000 direct jobs by utilizing $1.3 billion in federal funds to tackle methane emissions. These job opportunities would arise from monitoring and repairing equipment, as well as the closure of old orphaned oil and gas wells scattered throughout Northern and Central Appalachia.

The funding for this initiative is being sourced from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as well as the Inflation Reduction Act. Kentucky is set to receive approximately $200 million, while West Virginia will get $288 million. Ohio will be allocated $366 million, and Pennsylvania will receive the highest amount of $490 million.

“We are just starting to witness the potential for long-term careers in the field of plugging and abandonment, also known as decommissioning, of oil and gas wells in the region,” stated Ted Boettner, a senior researcher at ORVI. He highlighted the report, which he co-authored with Gregory Cumpton from the University of Texas-Austin. Boettner compared the situation to turning lemons into lemonade, emphasizing that numerous old wells remain unplugged and pose significant hazards, including greenhouse gas emissions. He further emphasized the potential for creating thousands of jobs in these communities over the next 50 years, dedicated to cleaning up this environmental mess.”

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During a report launch hosted by the non-profit group ReImagine Appalachia, Boettner emphasized the immense potential of the plugging programs. He highlighted how these programs can provide valuable training to young workers, equipping them with the necessary skills for long-term career success. Additionally, Boettner highlighted the opportunity for laid-off workers from industries like coal to find stable employment through these programs.

“According to Boettner and Cumpton, if the IIJA and IRA funds are used to decommission orphaned and marginal conventional wells, it could generate approximately 2,400 direct jobs on the well sites. They also mentioned that this number does not include the indirect jobs that will be created through the purchase of goods and services.”

The job estimate did not take into account the need for administrative and other support workers, who would be essential for implementing the programs. They also highlighted that the skills of proficient pluggers could be transferable to other industrial positions.

According to Boettner and Cumpton, the study conducted by the institute aimed to inform states about the upcoming challenges and assist them in developing education and economic strategies to effectively utilize the federal funds.

Orphan wells pose a major issue in Appalachia. These wells, which can be over a century old, have no identifiable owner and often pose a threat to the local community and environment due to pollution. In the past year, Pennsylvania has taken steps to address this problem by plugging more wells than it has in almost ten years. However, it is estimated that the state still has over 300,000 undocumented orphan wells, predominantly located in western and northern Pennsylvania.

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The number of orphan wells across the country stands at 127,000, with Pennsylvania having 27,000, Ohio with 20,000, Kentucky with 12,000, and West Virginia with 6,000.

The report from the institute highlighted the importance of recognizing the long-term nature of the well plugging process. It emphasized the need for economic and political coordination in order to effectively deploy workers to address this issue.

Boettner emphasized the importance of political leadership in bringing together contractors, agencies, and workforce development professionals to address pressing issues.

The report emphasized the importance of unionized apprenticeships for providing skill training.

There will also be a need for increased oversight on how federal funding is allocated and spent. Critics in Pennsylvania have raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the state’s well-plugging program.

Dana Kuhnline, program director for ReImagine Appalachia, emphasized the importance of having efficient agencies to implement these programs effectively. This ensures that the funding is utilized optimally, resulting in wise expenditure.

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