Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

How Abandoned Wells Can Cause Explosions and Contamination

Infographic by StateImpact

This infographic shows how new wells can cause water contamination when they're drilled in the same formation as old abandoned wells.

Abandoned wells in Pennsylvania are putting landowners at risk for drilling-induced explosions and water contamination, according to a new investigative series by our fellow StateImpact reporters in Pennsylvania. After a methane geyser erupted in the Pennsylvania countryside last year, StateImpact Pennsylvania is now looking into the dangers of abandoned, aka “orphaned,” wells in their Perilous Pathways series.

Laurie Barr lives in Pennsylvania and remembers reading those reports about the geyser earlier this year. “I thought, whoa, what the f—?” Barr recalls. “Can you imag­ine step­ping out to shovel snow, and your whole house goes poof?” Now she’s made it her mission to find where the orphaned wells are and what danger they pose.

Texas also is home to abandoned wells, as we reported earlier this year. Over 7,869 orphan wells scatter across the oil and gas fields of Texas, which cost millions of dollars to plug.

StateImpact Pennsylvania reports that there are prob­a­bly around 200,000 aban­doned oil and gas wells in the state. “We know where just a slim frac­tion – prob­a­bly four per­cent – of these wells are,” they write. “The information gap is a prob­lem, because aban­doned wells are dangerous.” Some of them can lead to methane migration when new wells are drilled for hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking,” causing water contamination.

You can read more about orphan wells and what is being done to identify and reduce their threat at StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Elizabeth Trovall is an intern with StateImpact Texas. 


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