Abandoned Well May Have Caused Sullivan County Methane Leak

Abandoned Well May Have Caused Sullivan County Methane Leak by Scott Detrow, October 16, 2012, NPR State Impact Pennsylvania
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.”

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