Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Gov. Shapiro Marks Plugging 100th Conventional Oil & Gas Well In 10 Months; New Initiative Allows Texting Abandoned Well Photos/Locations To Governor That Need Plugging

On October 18, Gov. Josh Shapiro, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council marked the plugging of the 100th conventional oil and gas well– more wells than were plugged in the prior 6 years combined.  

In a related social media post, Gov. Shapiro also announced--     “​​Starting now, you can text 717-788-8990 with a picture of any abandoned oil or gas well and your coordinates, and my team will work to plug that abandoned well.”

The 100th well was plugged at Hillman State Park under an emergency contract with Yost Drilling after DEP followed up on reports from local residents concerned about the risks abandoned wells pose to public health and safety.

[The Hillman State Park well is one of several abandoned conventional wells in Hanover Township, Washington County DEP has said they plan to plug because of ongoing citizen complaints of water supply contamination who has been without clean water and impacts to residents’ health.

[The conventional wells include SB Donaldson 1, 2, 3 and AB Donaldson 3, which were part of a DEP order the agency issued against Prosperity Oil Co, Inc. [Read more here.]   DEP inspections in April found several of these wells venting natural gas.  Read more here.

[For more information contact Cathy Lodge at: ]

“My Administration is making real progress towards tackling a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions here in Pennsylvania, and creating thousands of good-paying, union jobs in the process,” said Gov. Josh Shapiro. “We must reject the false choice between protecting jobs and protecting our planet. I believe we can do both – we can embrace the Commonwealth’s role as an energy leader, create good-paying jobs, and fulfill our constitutional obligation to protect Pennsylvania’s clean air and pure water. Let’s plug the wells, improve our air quality, and strengthen our communities.”

Capping and plugging orphaned and abandoned wells improves public health, reduces planet-warming methane emissions, and creates good-paying jobs. 

Gov. Shapiro directed the DEP to draw down as much federal funding as possible to cap and plug the orphaned and abandoned wells that dot Pennsylvania.

“We are grateful to Gov. Shapiro for his leadership in moving to address orphaned and abandoned wells,” said Amanda Leland, Executive Director of Environmental Defense Fund. “These wells can leak methane and air toxics, contaminate groundwater and surface water, create an explosion risk for nearby structures, and significantly reduce property values. President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has helped jumpstart orphan well plugging in Pennsylvania – providing critical funds – and can help chip away at the state’s tens of thousands of documented orphan wells while work continues to identify the estimated hundreds of thousands of undocumented orphaned and abandoned wells in the Commonwealth.”

Thanks to the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Pennsylvania is poised to receive more than $400 million over the next 15 years to cap and plug conventional oil and gas wells across the Commonwealth. 

This has already led to adding a dozen additional DEP staff specifically working on wells in Western Pennsylvania alone.

“The Shapiro Administration’s orphaned and abandoned well plugging program is a win for the environment, our communities, and the industry, said Scott Kiger, CEO of Yost Drilling. “This program benefits local businesses and provides long-term employment opportunities for the residents of our state. Yost Drilling is proud to be a part of this milestone for Pennsylvania.”

Greenhouse Gas Reductions

Through IIJA funding and existing state funding for DEP, the Commonwealth is moving to tackle this massive contributor of greenhouse gasses.

More than approximately 350,000 orphaned conventional oil and gas wells across our Commonwealth make up nearly 8% of our total methane emissions. 

Methane is particularly dangerous because it is up to 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide – warming our planet and contributing to air pollution that damages our lungs and our hearts.

Because many wells in Pennsylvania were drilled before modern mapping and regulations, DEP only had locations for about 30,000 wells, a fraction of the estimated 350,000 orphaned wells. 

For too long, the Commonwealth had inadequate resources to address the problem.

“Today’s celebration highlights the Shapiro Administration’s commitment to investing in our environment and public resources as a key driver for wellbeing and economic success in Pennsylvania,” said Davitt Woodwell, President of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council. “From tackling the cost and challenge of our extraction legacy to creating an Office of Outdoor Recreation, Pennsylvania’s brightest future is one that serves environmental, community, and economic prosperity together.”  

Click Here for the complete announcement.

[Visit DEP’s federally-funded Well Plugging Program webpage for more background.  Visit DEP’s Well Plugging Dashboard to see how many wells being plugged pose an environmental and/or health threat.]

Preventing More Abandoned Conventional Wells

DEP has been using the funding provided by the IIJA to inspect and inventory more orphaned and abandoned wells, and to implement a new enforcement strategy. 

DEP is aggressively going after operators who are walking away from wells and stepping in with emergency plugging contracts where needed to protect public health.

[In December, DEP issued the first-ever assessment of how well conventional oil and gas operators comply with state environmental laws.  

[They found continuing to abandon oil and gas wells to be the most frequent violation DEP deals with, saying between 400 and 600 conventional wells continue to be abandoned each year by operators.  Read more here.

[The December report also said conventional operators had a “culture of non-compliance” that is “an acceptable norm in the conventional oil and gas industry.”  Read more here.

[A report issued in April by the Environmental Defense Fund said a new study found 55,000 oil and gas wells owned by operators in Pennsylvania are at high risk of becoming abandoned leaving state taxpayers holding the bag for $3.7 billion in well plugging and cleanup costs.  Read more here.

[The same report said another 51,000 conventional wells were at risk of being transferred to low solvency owners.  Read more here.

[A hearing in April by the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee further documented significant noncompliance by conventional oil and gas well owners, including the pervasive practices of well abandonment.  Read more here.

[In May, the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee reported out House Bill 962 (Vitali-D-Delaware) that corrects the flaws in Act 96 by a party-line vote-- Republicans opposing.  The bill was Tabled for action in the House.  Read more here.

[On August 24, PennFuture, the Sierra Club, Clean Air Council, Protect Penn-Trafford, and Earthworks announced they have filed a joint lawsuit in Commonwealth Court against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including the General Assembly and Gov. Shapiro, challenging the constitutionality of a law that prevents the Commonwealth from protecting communities, public health and the environment from the harm caused by abandoned conventional oil and gas wells.

[The groups said thousands of abandoned, unplugged conventional wells in Pennsylvania leak methane and other harmful chemicals into the air and water, harming public health and worsening the climate crisis.

[They mar communities, reduce property values, and depress the local tax base. They are also at risk of explosion.  Read more here.]

Environmental Justice Policy

The Shapiro Administration is also prioritizing environmental justice when deciding which wells to tackle. DEP is going after the wells that pose the greatest threat to public health and safety, as well as prioritizing wells located in environmental justice areas. 

DEP is looking at methane emissions and impacts on disadvantaged communities to put those wells at the top of the list.

[Note: Laurie Barr, from Save Our Streams PA, said DEP should be spending the new federal well plugging funds to plug wells that are causing real problems

[She pointed out that 96% of the wells being plugged with the first round of federal funding did not have any environmental impacts and 89% did not have any human impacts, according to DEP’s federal Well Plugging Program Well Tracking webpage.]

Earlier this year, the Shapiro Administration announced an updated environmental justice policy, which expanded the criteria to better include concerns of Pennsylvania communities most at risk from pollution and other environmental impacts and created an updated mapping tool that allows DEP to more accurately identify which communities qualify for environmental justice protections.

[Visit DEP’s Environmental Justice Permit Review Policy webpage for more information and the schedule of upcoming public hearings.  Read more here.]

Resource Link:

-- Gov. Shapiro: We Need Stronger Laws To Deal With The ‘Corporate Greed’ That Let Oil & Gas Operators Get Away With Abandoning Wells For Far Too Long [PaEN]


-- WTAE: Shapiro Announces 100th Abandoned Conventional Well Plugged; Homeowner With Contaminated Drinking Water Frustrated By Delays

-- Observer-Reporter: Milestone Moment: Hillman State Park Site Of State’s 100th Conventional Abandoned Well Plugging

-- StateImpactPA - Rachel McDevitt: 100 Plugged And 300,000+ To Go: Abandoned Conventional Well Cleanup Effort Jumps With Federal Money

-- Wilkes-Barre Editorial: Praise To Shapiro Administration For Plugging Old Conventional Abandoned Oil & Gas Wells

Related Articles - Abandoning Wells:

-- DEP Report Finds: Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Routinely Abandon Wells; Fail To Report How Millions Of Gallons Of Waste Is Disposed; And Non-Compliance Is An ‘Acceptable Norm’  [12.29.22]

-- DEP 2021 Oil & Gas Program Annual Report Shows Conventional Oil & Gas Operators Received A Record 610 Notices Of Violation For Abandoning Wells Without Plugging Them  [1.16.23] 

-- House Hearing: Let’s Work Together To Make Conventional Oil & Gas Industry Practices Cleaner, Respect Property Rights, Protect Taxpayers And Prevent New Abandoned Wells  [4.24.23]

-- EDF: Pennsylvania Has 55,000 Oil/Gas Wells At High Risk Of Being Abandoned; 51,000 Wells At Risk Of Being Transferred To Low Solvency Owners; Current Conventional Well Owners Abandon 561 Wells A Year, On Average  [4.24.23] 

-- Inside Climate News - Stacey Burling: $400 Million In Federal Abandoned Conventional Oil/Gas Well Plugging Funds In PA, But It’s Not Enough; Hazards Include EQT Frack-Out In Greene County; More Wells Being Abandoned All The Time [6.11.23]

-- DEP Posts Solicitation For Bids To Plug 23 Abandoned Conventional Oil & Gas Waste Injection Wells Owned By ARG Resources, Inc. And Pennzoil Company In Elk County  [6.16.23] 

-- EQB No Longer Has Statutory Authority To Change Conventional Oil & Gas Well Bonding Amounts To Help Prevent 400 to 600 New Well Abandonments A Year; Adopts Proposed Changes To Water Quality Standards For Comment  [7.11.23] 

-- Lawsuit Filed Against General Assembly, Governor Challenges Constitutionality Of Law Preventing DEP From Protecting Public Health, Environment From Harm Caused By Abandoning Conventional Oil & Gas Wells [8.24.23]

-- Petro Erie Inc. Again Claims It Lacks The Financial Ability To Comply With DEP’s 2nd Order To Cleanup Conventional Oil Well Wastewater Spill That Contaminated The Village Of Reno’s Water Supply In Venango County  [10.6.23]

-- DEP Extends Public Comment Period On Interim Final Environmental Justice Permit Review Policy To Nov. 30; Will Schedule Additional Hearings  [10.16.23]

PA Oil & Gas Industry Public Notice Dashboards:

-- Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - October 14 to 20 - 6 More Abandoned Conventional Wells; Conventional Gas Migration Incident; Inactive Shale Gas Wells [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - October 21  [PaEN] 

-- DEP Posted 62 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In October 21 PA Bulletin  [PaEN]  

Related Articles This Week:

-- 9th Compendium Of Studies On Health & Environmental Harms From Natural Gas Development Released - ‘The Rapidly Expanding Body Of Evidence Compiled Here Is Massive, Troubling And Cries Out For Decisive Action’  [PaEN]

-- Gov. Shapiro: We Need Stronger Laws To Deal With The ‘Corporate Greed’ That Let Oil & Gas Operators Get Away With Abandoning Wells For Far Too Long [PaEN]

-- Gov. Shapiro Marks Plugging 100th Conventional Oil & Gas Well In 10 Months; New Initiative Allows Texting Abandoned Well Photos/Locations To Governor That Need Plugging  [PaEN]

-- FracTracker Alliance Recognizes 5 Individuals With The 2023 Community Sentinel Awards - 3 From Pennsylvania  [PaEN]

-- Senate Committee Briefing Finds No Definition Or Standard For ‘Responsibly Sourced’ Natural Gas; PA Producers Already Below One RS Threshold  [PaEN] 

-- PA Physicians For Social Responsibility: Methane Leaks From SEPTA Gas Generation Plant, Philadelphia  [Video]

-- Protect PT, Partners Host Oct. 26 Webinar On PFAS 'Forever Chemical' In Pennsylvania's Oil & Gas Production  [PaEN] 

-- EPA, West Virginia Officials Working To Secure Fairmount Oil & Gas Wastewater Processing Facility To Prevent Release Of Radioactive, Hazardous Materials  [PaEN]

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Holds Nov. 2 Hearing On Water Withdrawal Requests, Including Shale Gas Drilling In Loyalsock, Pine Creek Exceptional Value Watersheds  [PaEN]

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Approves 19 Shale Gas Well Pad Water Use General Permits In Bradford, Susquehanna, Tioga Counties  [PaEN] 

-- PUC Safety Division Investigating Columbia Gas Service Disruptions To 4,000+ Customers In Beaver County  [PaEN]

-- PUC Updates Investigation Into Dec. 2022 Natural Gas House Explosion In Dauphin County  [PaEN]

-- PUC PA One Call Damage Prevention Committee Imposes $177,875 In Penalties Against 120 Violators

-- DEP Responds To Oil Spill In Conodoguinet Creek; PA American Water Company Shuts Water Intake, Customers Asked To Conserve Water In Cumberland County  [PaEN]

-- DEP Blog: Attention Home Heating Oil Users - Check Your Tanks To Prevent Costly Leaks, Spills 

-- Guest Essay: My Hometown Shows The Benefits Of The Fossil Fuel Industry Come At A Tremendous Cost - Gov. Shapiro, Let's Hold Them Accountable - Support The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative  - By Rev. Mitchell Hescox, Evangelical Environmental Network - Action  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Advocates To Spend More Than $250,000 In Support Of McCaffery In Critical PA Supreme Court Race To Protect Constitutional Right To Clean Air, Pure Water  [PaEN] 


-- Inside Climate News - Jon Hurdle: Research By Public Health Experts Shows ‘Damning’ Evidence Of Harms From Natural Gas Development; Industry Rejected The Reports As ‘Junk Science’

-- Spotlight PA: Potter County Township Wants To Make It Easier For Other Places In PA To Fight Oil/Gas Wastewater Injection Wells 

-- Inside Climate News: Answers About Old Conventional Gas Wells Repurposed As Injection Wells For Oil/Gas Wastewater May Never Be Fully Unearthed 

-- Energy News Network: Ohio Oil & Gas Industry Spills, Releases Boost Worries About Drilling Under State Parks

-- Hilco Redevelopment Breaks Ground For Bellwether District In South Philadelphia On Former Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery Site 

-- WHYY/BillyPenn: What To Know About The Bellwether District, The Giant Complex Now Rising On The Site Of The Former Philadelphia Refinery

-- Courier Times: Nooses And Slurs vs. Contested Firing: PA Workplace Discrimination Cases Yield Very Different Outcomes; Case Of Oil & Gas Employee vs. Starbucks Manager

-- Pittsburgh Business Times: Mountain Valley Natural Gas Pipeline’s Costs Rise Again As Timeline Extends

-- Inside Climate News: Federal Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Begins Regulating 400,000 Miles Of Natural Gas Gathering Pipelines, Industry Isn’t Happy  [8.6 to 16 inches]

-- Utility Dive: PJM Interconnection Asks FERC To Approve Capacity Market Reforms In Push To Bolster Grid Reliability After Winter Storm Elliot

-- Utility Dive: Investments In PJM-Area Natural Gas And Traditional Power Plants Hurt Private Equity Funds’ Performance Due To Nonperformance Penalties From Winter Storm Elliot

-- Williamsport Sun: Lycoming College Clean Water Institute’s Matt Kaunert Speaks About Declining Populations Of Hellbenders In Pennsylvania

[Posted: October 18, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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