Webinar provides insight on orphan and abandoned wells in Pennsylvania

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The history of abandoned natural-gas wells and how they have been handled in Pennsylvania — and how they must be dealt with going forward — will be the subject of a web-based seminar offered by Penn State Extension on Tuesday, Oct. 23.

Presenting the webinar will be Seth Pelepko, manager of the well-plugging program at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and Luke Plants, vice president of Plants and Goodwin Inc., industry experts in plugging and abandonment operations in the greater Appalachian region.

Since the first commercial oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859, some researchers estimate that as many as 760,000 oil and gas wells may have been drilled in the Commonwealth. With no official record-keeping in the earlier years — and information for approximately 200,000 wells in DEP's databases — up to 560,000 wells could be unaccounted for and/or are not plugged to current environmental-protection and safety standards.

"Due to their sheer number and a funding platform defined in the law that hasn't changed in more than 33 years, orphan and abandoned wells now pose an enormous environmental challenge for the Commonwealth," Pelepko said. "However, based on work initiated by DEP to define the scope of Pennsylvania's plugging liability, it is apparent that now is the time to start approaching this challenge through innovative stakeholder partnerships and creative funding strategies."

Plants noted that the challenges of plugging abandoned wells are complex and can be quite costly. He believes that contractors must try to create prices based on lofty assumptions because well records are often inaccurate or nonexistent.

"Compromised integrity of old well casings add additional man-hours to plugging projects and create demand for hard-to-find specialty tools," he said. "Entire towns have sprung up around abandoned wells, in some instances causing significant permitting fees and delays. The Commonwealth will need to confront these problems for the next century, and any viable solution will require a coordinated effort by industry, regulatory bodies, nongovernment organizations and concerned citizens."

The webinar, "Handling Orphan and Abandoned Wells from a Regulatory and Industry Perspective," is part of Penn State Extension's Shale Gas Education monthly webinar series. Upcoming webinars include the following:

— Nov 15: "Agricultural Production and Shale Gas Development," presented by Gretchen Sneegas, doctoral degree candidate in the Department of Geography, University of Georgia.

— Dec 13: "Unconventional Oil and Gas Bringing Trusted Science to Decision-Making," presented by Donna Vorhees, director of the Energy Research Program for Health Effects Institute.

The webinar is free, but registration is necessary. To register, visit the Penn State Extension Natural Gas Events webpage. More information is available by contacting Carol Loveland at 570-320-4429 or at

Previous webinars, publications and information also are available on the Penn State Extension natural-gas website, covering a variety of topics such as liquid natural gas; seismic testing; methane emissions; water use and quality; Marcellus and Utica basins; natural gas reserves; gas-leasing considerations for landowners; legal issues surrounding gas development; and the impact of Marcellus gas development on forestland.

Last Updated October 10, 2018