Abandoned wells

There are thousands of abandoned wells as a result of Pennsylvania’s 150-year history of oil and gas drilling.

HARRISBURG — The Department of Environmental Protection is encouraging private-sector partners to become Good Samaritans, by participating in a program that helps cap dangerous abandoned oil and gas wells statewide.

The program protects them from liability for their role in helping reduce the health, safety, and environmental hazards of these wells.

“Our 150-year history of oil and gas drilling, much of it before environmental regulations were implemented, has left Pennsylvania with a challenging legacy: plugging thousands of abandoned wells that were left open,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.

The Environmental Good Samaritan Act of 1999 protects groups and individuals who volunteer to implement qualifying environmental remediation projects from civil and environmental liability. The Act doesn’t provide immunity for injury or damage that may result from reckless, unlawful, or grossly negligent acts or omissions.

While the Act historically has been used for mine reclamation, DEP first applied it to two oil and gas well projects in 2017. Cameron Energy plugged a well in Warren County that had been discharging crude oil to the ground and nearby streams, and Chemtrade Logistics plugged a leaking gas well in Elk County. These projects are estimated to have saved DEP $60,000 to $85,000, in addition to administrative cost savings related to contract development and management.

Three more project proposals are currently under review, and DEP welcomes others.

The agency has developed online training to walk volunteers through the process of submitting a project proposal and applying for the liability protection. In addition, the eFACTS environmental database and Oil and Gas Mapping Tool have been updated to provide an inventory of Environmental Good Samaritan project proposals for abandoned wells in Pennsylvania.

Questions about well plugging through the Environmental Good Samaritan Act can be addressed by contacting the DEP Bureau of Oil and Gas Planning and Program Management or the district office where the project is located.

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