Pennsylvania plugging 12 more abandoned oil and gas wells

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oil well sits in forest
An oil well sits in the Allegheny National Forest, in Warren County, Pennsylvania. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

The Pennsylvania departments of Conservation and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection announced April 7 that work is beginning to plug 12 abandoned oil and gas wells in the Cornplanter State Forest, in Forest County.

“Proper plugging of these legacy wells will provide immediate benefits to the air, land and water in the Cornplanter State Forest as well as eliminating potential safety issues for state forest visitors,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said, in a statement.

Pennsylvania has been home to oil and gas wells for more than 150 years. “Now many of these orphaned wells from yesterday are polluting our environment today,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell, in a statement. “This project begins to address the enormous backlog of orphaned wells in Pennsylvania.”

The 12 wells, some of which are believed to have been in the forest since the 1920s, are located in Harmony Township. This is the first phase of a four-phase project in this area.

Old, decaying orphan wells not only act as a significant source of methane emissions, but in many cases, can leak oil and gas into water, soil and sometimes nearby homes, creating an explosion hazard.

DCNR bid the project and is responsible for overall project management and contract oversight. DEP provided the technical specifications for the contract documents and also will provide on-site inspection services of the work. The contract was awarded to Howard Drilling, LLC, of Mount Jewett.

Background

Statewide, there are more than 8,700 documented orphan wells in Pennsylvania, but DEP estimates that there are between 100,000 and 560,000 wells that remain unaccounted for. 

The DEP Well Plugging Program started in 1985 to plug abandoned oil and gas wells where there is no identifiable responsible party. It’s funded by permit surcharges paid by oil and gas companies for each drilling permit issued in the state, although those funds collected are not adequate to address the enormous number of orphan wells. More than 3,000 orphans wells have been plugged since the program began.

Pennsylvania’s estimated to have the most orphan wells in the country, thanks in part to its long history with the oil industry. The first commercial oil well in the U.S. was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, and birthed an oil rush in Pennsylvania. The DEP estimates as many as 300,000 to 760,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in the state since then.

President Joe Biden’s recently announced American Jobs Plan includes investing $16 billion to cap hundreds of thousands of orphan oil and gas wells and abandoned mines.

If you discover a well on your property, DEP is available to ensure it has been properly identified and that any potential environmental, health and safety issues are addressed, as resources allow. Contact the DEP Oil and Gas District offices:

  • Meadville District Office: 814-332-6860
  • Pittsburgh District Office: 412-442-4024
  • Central Office: 717-772-2199
  • Williamsport District Office: 570-327-3636

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