Abandoned Oil, Gas Wells Pose Hazard to Region

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Pa. (EYT) – Our region is home to the birthplace of the oil boom, and also to the remnants of oil and gas wells left behind following that key moment in history – and they’re potentially dangerous.

Far from insignificant, abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells pose several potential dangers.

The good news: The state Department of Environmental Protection is engaged in an effort to find and plug them, but it’s no easy task.

It is estimated more than 300,000 oil and gas wells have been dug in Pennsylvania since Edwin Drake sunk the first pipe into the ground near Titusville, Venango County in 1859.

The problem is many people abandoned the wells once they stopped working, leaving behind frozen pump jacks, rusted wellheads, old pipes sticking out of the ground, and even open holes.

The DEP has records of over 140,000 of these wells, but it is estimated as many as more than 200,000 may be hidden. While some are relatively easy to spot, others have little or no telltale signs.

orphan-wells

In Jefferson County

A report on the DEP website indicates 155 orphaned and abandoned wells have been identified in Jefferson County.

It is an issue largely confined to the western portion of the state. Indeed, there are generally fewer wells the farther east one travels.

Nearby Venango County has an astonishing 3,002 identified orphaned and abandoned wells; further east, Clarion County has only 256 listed on the DEP report.

While many of these areas were always a potential danger, a new force entered the picture within the last decade or so that has unearthed bigger issues, sometimes quite literally.

Shale well drilling began in Pennsylvania in 2005, and it now appears an unintended consequence of those actions was the displacement of gas deep under the earth, where it gradually made it’s way to the surface through any open path possible – including the abandoned and orphaned wells.

Due to shale welling and other dangers, DEP has begun tracking down and reporting the wells in the hopes they will be plugged. The problem is finances, as the cost to fill a hole or plug an abandoned well can often reach as much as $100,000.

Still, DEP has a well-plugging program as they attempt to make headway on the matter.


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