Sunday, October 25, 2015

Abandoned Wells are NOT a sign of "Responsible Gas Drilling"

One of the arguments from the pro-drilling faction in my town and surrounding region is that "gas drillers are good neighbors". If you are on the receiving end of lease money, it may seem that way - even if you have to put up with the inconvenience of a wellpad on your best pasture or some contamination in your water supply. They're certainly good neighbors if you're a truck driver or run a gravel mining operation. And I know some hard-working people have earned good money working for them.

An abandoned, unplugged well in PA
But when the going gets tough, some of these drilling companies cut and run - leaving thousands of abandoned wells that need to be plugged. And who picks up the bill? We do. The taxpayers. We pay the cost of plugging wells long after the drillers have pocketed their profits.

So what's the problem with these wells? If they are not properly plugged, they provide pathways for methane to travel into the atmosphere, adding greenhouse gases to an already growing climate catastrophe. They also provide pathways for chemicals and methane to flow from a current well into groundwater or drinking water wells.

This is the problem:
graphic from NPR article  

There are thousands of abandoned and unplugged wells, and drillers - and state regulators - don't know where they are. Back in 2012, the PA Department of Environmental Protection estimated there were about 200,000 abandoned wells - and that was before companies started drilling in the Marcellus.

This isn't just a Marcellus Shale problem; Alberta faces a growing number of abandoned wells. When the price of oil or gas declines, the companies just walk away - leaving the government to clean up after them. Alberta does have an "orphaned well" fund that helps cover the cost but - especially with deeper wells - remediating a site can cost up to $1 million and take 10 years. Responsible drillers don't do that to their neighbors.

Wyoming is facing the same problem, now that the gas boom is going bust. They've got more than 4,000 methane-bed gas wells to locate and plug - because the companies who drilled the wells up and left.  Granted, coalbed-methane wells are shallow, and only cost around $10,000 apiece to plug - but that adds up to $30 million - and, say regulators, the newer wells are deeper and cost tens of thousands more to plug. Once again, corporations pocket the profit and leave the public with the cleaning tab. Responsible drillers don't do that to their neighbors.

Despite evidence that drilling contributes to impacts to public health, including low birth weights premature births, and increased hospitalizations of people living near drilling sites; decreased  air quality (even if you live hundreds of miles away from the actual drilling site), potential human-induced seismic activity, and decreased water quality, the Candor town board is convinced that "everyone" in town wants to be fracked. They fully intend to pass a resolution supporting gas-fracking at their November 10 board meeting.

The proposed well isn't in our town, one board  member pointedly told someone during a previous meeting, so why are we all upset? (Maybe because air and water contamination don't respect town boundaries?) On the other hand, the proposed well isn't in our town, so why is our town board so headstrong adamant about passing this resolution? Could it have something to do with the old-boy network? Or the fact that our town supervisor traveled to Harrisburg, PA a couple days ago to meet with Pennsylvania lawmakers about how our town can secede from NY?


  1. One problem is that the well financial security requirements imposed by DEC are too low--only $2,500 to $5,000 per well depending on the depth of the well. At today's prices, it costs a lot more than that to plug a well. The financial security requirements need to be substantially increased.

    1. That is a big problem - not only in NY but also Wyoming, Alberta, and everywhere else pretty much.

  2. Don't forget the $100 fee tacked on to each drilling application that goes to the Oil & Gas Fund, which not only pays for plugging abandoned orphan wells but should compensate municipalities for any damages from spills. Plugging a well cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. NYS has a list of hundreds of priority abandoned well to be plugged and estimates that there are tens of thousands that are not in the well database and their status is unknown.