Energy. Environment. Economy.

Abandoned Well May Have Caused Sullivan County Methane Leak

Click on the image to view a map of Pennsylvania's known abandoned wells

Last week, StateImpact Pennsylvania published a series on the dangers posed by the state’s estimated 200,000 abandoned oil and gas wells.

These unplugged holes create unobstructed pathways for natural gas to migrate to the surface, where it can pool in water wells, basements, and other enclosed spaces.

It turns out, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has been dealing with the situation we laid out – an abandoned well possibly creating a pathway for natural gas to make its way into a home – since May.

That’s when a resident of Forks Township, Sullivan County, called to complain about methane gas. DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday writes that regulators temporarily evacuated the home, and that,  “measures were taken to reduce levels of methane in the structure and alarms were installed so that the resident was able to return.”

Investigators also uncovered a nearby abandoned well, which became a prime suspect for the gas leak. Since this was an emergency situation — Sunday writes the evacuation made that clear — “[DEP was]  able to move forward with plugging this well through an emergency contract.“

It’s rare for a well to be plugged that quickly. The state has compiled a backlog of more than 8,200 wells in need of plugging. Many have been listed on the DEP well database for years.

Well plugging began in June, and is “near completion.” That’s not to say the Department of Environmental Protection is 100 percent sure the abandoned well caused the methane leak. There are also two active Chesapeake Energy drilling sites near the Forks Township Home, and the state is still investigating.

To add one more wrinkle, Sunday writes the department is also investigating another methane migration episode in same township, near two Chesapeake wells. “Again, there are no obvious problems relating to the construction of these gas wells, which is why there are no specific violations noted,” he says. “However, the department is continuing to evaluate further. “


  • Maggie Henry

    How many of the citizens of the Commonwealth have to suffer at the hands of the gas industry before DEP and our state legislatures do something about this? The problem is money … Corbutts administration is wholly owned by the gas industry and do not represent us. Do your homework, if your representative voted for Act 13 – get rid of them!

  • norm

    It is estimated that natural gas has saved Pa consumers an average of $1,500/year.
    Another estimate is that falling gas prices from an oversupply have saved all US consumers 200 billion dollars, helping the economy in 2012. Woa. With numbers like that, consumers flock to the cheapest solutions. Natural Gas has been the cheapest solution where it was availiable likely because you dont have to deliver it, it’s piped right in. Natural Gas is the best envoronmental friendly fossil fuel, and our move to using more should reduce green house gasses. What goes wrong? The flaws for the USA, are the flaws in capitalism. Ouch. We let these energy companies drill (oil and gas), like they needed it yesterday, but we need to put safety first. These are the flaws in capitalism. Ouch. Fortunatly, the controversy over fracking has improved the industry behavior, and respect for the environment, and things have improved.

  • norm

    Pa had the first US oil/gas well in 1859. With historic wells, they need to be plugged. (and not just “capped”). If they know they need to replug 8,200 wells, then it’s time for a tax and do it now.

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