U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today applauded final congressional approval of the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act, which she co-authored and made sure included $50 million for the cleanup of abandoned oil and gas wells drilled by the federal government in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The bill is now on its way to President Obama for signing.
Murkowski negotiated the final deal to close the federal helium reserve with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rep. Doc Hastings, (R-Wash.), the chairmen of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee, respectively.
"For years, we fought just to get a couple of million dollars dedicated to the cleanup of the legacy wells, so I'm pleased we were able to obtain $50 million to begin seriously addressing what is nothing short of an environmental crime against Alaska," Murkowski said. "Securing the funding during these days of tight budgets and competing federal priorities was challenging, but the legacy wells are a federal responsibility that has been ignored for far too long."
Closure of the reserve is expected to generate approximately $500 million in revenue over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
As a result of Murkowski's work, the legislation includes the following funding for Alaska priorities:
Extends for one year the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Program, which provides $16 million for roads and schools for Southeast communities.
Provides $50 million for fiscal year 2018 to pay the federal share of challenge cost-share agreements for deferred maintenance projects and to correct deficiencies in National Park Service infrastructure nationwide.
Provides $50 million to remediate, reclaim, and close abandoned oil and gas wells on current or former National Petroleum Reserve land.
From 1944 to 1981, the federal government drilled 136 exploratory wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and then abandoned them. So far, only 16 of the wells have been properly plugged and remediated. The remaining wells are in various conditions of non-compliance with state law.
The BLM this week released a plan to remediate 16 of the highest priority legacy wells.
"BLM's plan is a good start. It doesn't cover all of the sites, but it takes care of the most serious environmental threats first. That's definitely a step in the right direction," Murkowski said.
As the ranking Republican on both the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which have authorizing and appropriations jurisdiction over BLM and other Interior Department agencies, Murkowski will continue to work to ensure that cleanup of the legacy wells remains a priority.