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.”