Just found a draft I’d forgotten to post in the wake of this year’s MacArthur fellowships, from commentor Xboxershorts:
Laurie’s (my wife) ability to research both the legacy history of PA’s 155 years of drilling activity as well as PA’s byzantine legal and policy maze has gotten to the point that she can exceed that of the PA DEPs own staff. She is on a first name basis with the head of the DEPs oil and gas management and she has had DEP’s own field staff refer problem wells that residents have complained about for decades to Laurie and our organization and we have forced the state to take action on them!
I love being a constant thorn in the side of political appointees…heh heh heh heh heh heh heh
As reported in the Guardian:
Laurie Barr spent a recent Saturday like she spends a lot of her weekends: trodding through the thorny and damp woodlands of rural north-western Pennsylvania, juggling a point-and-shoot camera, a GPS navigator, a cell phone, and, most importantly for the mission at hand, a methane detector…
“Here’s the spot they killed the last abandoned well hunter,” Barr joked from somewhere deep in the woods. Then Barr did something she’s done hundreds of times in the last three years – she leaned over a foot-wide hole in the ground and waved around the gas detector until it began beeping. First the beeps were slow, then rapid.
“I haven’t met a well that hasn’t leaked some amount,” she said, taking a picture of the hole, marking the location on her GPS device, and walking back towards the path. “Some are high emitters, some are low emitters, but they all leak.”…
No one knows exactly how many abandoned oil and gas wells litter Pennsylvania or the US. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection estimates the number is close to 200,000. Some estimates are a little lower, some much higher. Across the country, the number could be more than a million. Most of the wells are relic of of a time when states didn’t bother to regulate much of what happened on private land, including oil and gas drilling, and when most Americans didn’t think twice about a seemingly esoteric issue like the environment.
But hindsight has proven that losing track of hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells can lead to some problems. For decades, many of the wells have leaked methane into the air, soil and water.
Now, as the state makes its way through the seventh year of a new drilling boom, thanks to the technology of hydraulic fracturing, the old wells are posing an increasing threat. The more companies drill in the state’s Marcellus Shale, the more likely it becomes that the old wells will act as a pathways for newly-released gas to make its way into the earth, streams, and even people’s homes, with potentially deadly results…
In seemingly pristine places like the Allegheny forest the wells are so densely packed together and so prone to leaking that the EPA determined in the 1980s that the forest was essentially experiencing a slow-motion environmental disaster. The EPA spent millions to help plug some of the wells, but not without opposition from the industry and the local residents who support it. One EPA inspector even claimed he was shot at while walking through the forest…
Not knowing where the vast majority of the wells are obviously makes determining their cumulative effects difficult. Studies are scarce. But according to several experts, the wells could account for about 10% of the state’s total methane emissions. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, several dozen more times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide…
Every crime connected to every other crime:
Since 2007, Pennsylvania has issued nearly 45,000 new well permits. About a third of those are for “unconventional” wells. That means they’re often thousands of feet deep and hydraulically fracked, a process which requires myriad chemicals and leaves holes significantly more complicated to plug than traditional wells.
State leaders like Republican Governor Tom Corbett have made the case that regulations today are much more strict than in the past. Before 1956, oil and gas wells on private property didn’t even require permits. Now companies must go through mountains of paperwork to drill a well. The current regulatory system means newly drilled wells likely won’t go missing like their predecessors did. But they might still be abandoned.
The state currently requires companies to put down a bond of $4,000 for shallow wells and $10,000 for deeper ones. The state can (but is not required to) use that money to plug the wells if the companies abandon them.
The problem, according to experts, is that hiring plugging companies and buying enough concrete to fill many thousands of feet will almost always costs more than the price of the state’s bonds, especially for unconventional wells. That may give companies disincentive to plug their wells, and the state with the bill.
“It’s definitely not $10,000. Even $50,000 is a very optimistic number,” said Austin Mitchell, a postdoctoral fellow in the engineering department at Carnegie Mellon University who co-authored a study on the economics of abandoned wells. “Usually you want either the carrot or the stick to be big enough, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Pennsylvania.”
It will be decades before anyone knows whether today’s oil and gas companies will pay for their wells or leave that burden to the state. Neither of Pennsylvania’s main industry groups – the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association – responded to comments for this story…
Yeah, they may not have bothered with a written statement, but it’s pretty clearly a “response”.