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Addressing Pennsylvania’s Orphan Well Crisis

An image of a Pennsylvania orphan well, found by Earthworks and later added to the Department of Environmental Protection's orphan well list, with evidence of pollution leaking from the wellhead.

Pennsylvania faces significant challenges in addressing the issue of orphan wells, which pose environmental and public threats, alongside concerns about inaccurate data and the financial burden of remediation efforts. Governor Josh Shapiro has proposed an additional $11 million to supplement $500 million in federal funding allocated over the coming years for plugging these wells. However, increased funding has led to escalated costs. Arthur Stewart of Cameron Energy highlighted that costs have surged due to federal prevailing wage mandates and substantial increases in required bonding for contractors, with the average cost of plugging a well now approximately $110,000 according to DEP officials.

The federal initiative to plug orphan wells has led to a dramatic increase in the number of wells identified for closure, with the national database listing about 127,000 wells. In Pennsylvania, the costs for plugging wells have far exceeded initial estimates, raising concerns about the efficiency and financial management of the program. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) maintain databases on wells, but discrepancies and access fees have been criticized for hindering comprehensive understanding and management of the problem.

The legacy of orphan wells dates back to the oil and gas boom of the 19th century, with estimates suggesting between 350,000 to over 700,000 such wells across Pennsylvania. Efforts to manage and plug these wells are complicated by legal and operational challenges, including the identification of well ownership and the prioritization of wells posing the greatest risk to public health and the environment.

Despite conducting a record number of inspections to prevent wells from becoming orphaned, DEP faces staffing shortages and criticisms over the clarity and accuracy of its data. Stakeholders from various sectors, including government officials, environmentalists, and industry representatives, emphasize the need for a focused approach that prioritizes plugging wells that pose significant threats to public health and the environment. The issue of orphan wells in Pennsylvania not only highlights the state’s unique position in the national crisis but also underscores the complexity of addressing environmental legacies and the importance of strategic, effective interventions.

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Pamela K Coyle 1949-2024

Pam received her Master’s degree in library science from Clarion University in 1978. She never lost her love of reading or her enthusiasm for libraries.

Daily Forecast, April 21, 2024

Franklin County Forecast: In the forecast for today, we are expecting overcast clouds, with a high of 52.23°F and a low of 35.2°F. The humidity

Candie Sue Diffenderfer 1963-2024

Candie worked in the Prothonotary’s office at the Fulton County Courthouse, and later at Irving Accounting and U.S.A. Cartage in Williamsport, MD.

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