The Effort to Plug Pennsylvania’s Abandoned Oil Wells

Hundreds of thousands of defunct oil wells litter the state, leaking dangerous substances and often hidden under parking lots, buildings, or covered over by vegetation.

1 minute read

June 14, 2023, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Pennsylvania is expecting to receive $400 million in federal funding aimed at plugging the state’s roughly 250,000 defunct oil wells, which can pose serious health risks to surrounding communities. Writing for Inside Climate News, Stacey Burling describes the state of the state’s hundreds of thousands of abandoned wells.

Abandoned wells can contaminate surrounding groundwater and soil with carcinogens and release harmful gases into the air. “One of the known risks of abandoned wells, many of which were drilled before there were good regulations or records, is that fracking fluid can find an underground path to them and then spew to the surface. The wells, which often just look like pipes sticking from the ground, also can release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and other chemicals that can be harmful to people, plants, and wildlife.”

With many of the state’s wells “drilled in remote locations in an era when no one was required to report where they were,” the state has essentially lost track of thousands of abandoned wells. “More dangerously, some are now under parking lots or buildings. Some may just look like small depressions in the ground.” For many of them, “government is the only hope for plugging the oldest wells, because the original drillers are long gone, or more recent owners have gone bankrupt.”

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