Pittsburgh, PA – The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has begun an emergency project to plug two leaking abandoned natural gas wells along Scrubgrass Road in Scott Township, Allegheny County. At Governor Josh Shapiro’s direction, DEP is aggressively working to plug leaking oil and gas wells across Pennsylvania using state and federal funds. So far, under the Shapiro Administration, DEP has plugged 169 orphaned and abandoned wells.
On Tuesday, February 6, 2024, DEP’s contractor will begin plugging two leaking abandoned wells, Nixon 501-1 (003-00960) and Nixon 501-3 (003-00962), using emergency plugging funds. DEP’s contractor will be removing trees and potentially flaring the wells in preparation for plugging. Flaring is the controlled burning of natural gas from a well and may be necessary to evacuate gas from the well to ensure it can be safely plugged. The project is expected to take about a month to complete with a goal to permanently eliminate the potential for these wells to leak methane.
Due to the increasing methane levels, DEP has determined that this project is necessary to protect public health, safety, and the environment. Without this emergency project, the well could continue to deteriorate and stray methane gas could migrate into nearby sewer lines through the soil. The existing two leaking abandoned wells increase the risk of gas levels accumulating to unsafe levels if adverse weather conditions exist which would prevent the gas from dissipating. DEP will monitor stray gas while plugging the well.
DEP previously performed an emergency mitigation project in 2019 to address stray soil gas in the area. Recently, methane levels around the wells increased, and DEP and Scott Township officials have received a number of odor complaints around the Kane Woods Nature Area.
“Orphaned and abandoned gas wells dot Southwestern Pennsylvania in rural and more populated areas, representing potential threats to human health, safety, and the environment,” said Director of District Oil and Gas Operations, Dan Counahan. “We’re mobilizing emergency crews to mitigate this hazard as quickly as possible.”
DEP has allocated unprecedented resources to plug orphaned and abandoned wells, which allowed Pennsylvania to leverage millions in federal funding. Two additional wells in this area, Nixon 501-4 (003-00963) and Charter 502-1 (003-00964) are slated to be plugged later this year using federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funds.
Orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells can leak methane, a potent, greenhouse gas, that contributes to climate change. Methane can migrate into buildings and water supplies. Pennsylvania has over 30,000 orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells on its inventory and hundreds of thousands of legacy wells may be unaccounted for, posing a major financial liability and environmental, public health, and safety risk.
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