Pennsylvania environmental regulators are embarking on a project to map about 200,000 abandoned oil and gas wells that are currently unaccounted for in state records, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Abandoned wells provide pathways for methane gas to seep to the surface, where it can, under the right settings, trigger explosions. However, as StateImpact Pennsylvania has reported, finding and plugging them has been a difficult task for the state’s underfunded Abandoned and Orphaned Well Program.
The current mapping effort is being spurred by proposed state regulations for modern oil and gas drilling that would require companies to locate any old wells before fracking their new well.
While some companies have submitted historical maps to DEP, including valuable archives kept by EQT Corp. and Peoples Natural Gas, other companies have been reluctant to participate in the effort, citing cost, time and a host of thorny legal issues.
Several of the state’s oil and gas trade organizations detailed their legal concerns to DEP: State or federal regulators might take enforcement action against companies that contribute maps if they reveal old wells that haven’t been properly plugged or reported; third parties, like citizens or environmental groups, might use the map as the basis for appealing new well permits; and companies that contribute to the map might open themselves to lawsuits by people harmed while using the information or who claim that they have a proprietary interest in the data.
According to the Post-Gazette, the DEP is scouring local and state offices for maps of these old wells and collaborating with the National Energy Technology Laboratory. The agency plans to use this data to create a public online tool to help drillers avoid abandoned wells in future operations.