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Copperhead, Why Wells Are Plugged

Copperhead, Why Wells Are Plugged

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Published by copperheadpa
Deteriorating Oil and Gas Wells Threaten Drinking Water, Homes Across the Country - ProPublica

12/8/12 9:10 AM

Fracking Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat

Deteriorating Oil and Gas Wells Threaten Drinking Water, Homes Across the Country
Deteriorating Oil and Gas Wells Threaten Drinking Water, Homes Across the Country - ProPublica

12/8/12 9:10 AM

Fracking Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat

Deteriorating Oil and Gas Wells Threaten Drinking Water, Homes Across the Country

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Categories:Types, Research, Law
Published by: copperheadpa on Dec 08, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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12/8/12 9:10 AMDeteriorating Oil and Gas Wells Threaten Drinking Water, Homes Across the Country - ProPublicaPage 1 of 6http://www.propublica.org/article/deteriorating-oil-and-gas-wells-threaten-drinking-water-homes-across-the-co
Deteriorating Oil and Gas Wells ThreatenDrinking Water, Homes Acrossthe Country
Gas company employees must test this temporary vent to see if it’s safe for Nick Kellington and his family to visit their home. The Kellingtons were evacuated after gas from a nearbyabandoned well caused a small explosion in West Mifflin, Pa. (Nicholas Kusnetz/ProPublica)by Nicholas Kusnetz roPublica, April 4, 2011, 12 a.m.
version of this story was co-published [1] with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In the last 150 years, prospectors and energy companies have drilled as many as 12 million holes across the United States in search of oiland gas. Many of those holes were plugged after they dried up. But hundreds of thousands were simply abandoned and forgotten, oftenleaving no records of their existence.Government reports have warned for decades that abandoned wells can provide pathways for oil, gas or brine-laden water to contaminategroundwater supplies or to travel up to the surface. Abandoned wells have polluted the drinking water source for Fort Knox, Ky. [2], andleaked oil into water wells in Ohio and Michigan. Similar problems have occurred in Texas, New York, Colorado and other states wheredrilling has occurred.In 2008, gas from an abandoned well leaked into a septic system in Pennsylvania and exploded when someone tried to light a candle in a bathroom, killing the person, according to a 2009 draft report [3] by the state's Department of Environmental Protection. That report alsodocumented at least two dozen other cases of gas seeping from old wells, including three where the drilling of new wells "communicated" with old wells, leaking gas into water supplies and forcing the evacuation of a home.In February, methane from an old well made its way into the basement of a house in West Mifflin, Pa., triggering a small explosion. Twofamilies were evacuated and have not yet returned home.
FrackingGas Drilling's Environmental Threat
12/8/12 9:10 AMDeteriorating Oil and Gas Wells Threaten Drinking Water, Homes Across the Country - ProPublicaPage 2 of 6http://www.propublica.org/article/deteriorating-oil-and-gas-wells-threaten-drinking-water-homes-across-the-co
Vents like the one pictured in the foreground have beeninstalled throughout Versailles, Pa., so gas fromabandoned wells can be directed away from homes.(Nicholas Kusnetz /ProPublica)
Such incidents rarely receive much attention outside the states and neighborhoods they affect. But as the nation's latest drilling boomcontinues, abandoned wells have begun attracting more attention, particularly in states where the earth is already pock-marked with holesleft by earlier waves of extraction. New wells sometimes disturb layers of rock and dirt near fragile old wells, leading to new cases of contamination.The most recent effort to count the nation's unplugged wells was a survey [4] published in 2008 by the Interstate Oil and Gas CompactCommission, a multistate agency made up of regulators and industry representatives. It found that states had located nearly 60,000 wellsthat needed to be plugged -- and estimated that as many as a million more may be out there. In Pennsylvania alone, regulators estimatethat 184,000 wells were drilled before records were kept. Many of those wells were plugged with stumps, rocks or nothing at all."The fact that there are thousands of these out there that need to be addressed, it's a problem, and it's a problem common to all states" with a history of drilling, said Bradley Field, who heads New York's Division of Mineral Resources.The task of finding, plugging and monitoring old wells is daunting to cash-strapped stategovernments. A shallow well in good condition can sometimes be plugged with cement for afew thousand dollars. But costs typically run into the tens of thousands, and a price tag of $100,000 or more isn't unusual.In the last decade, New York has managed to plug only about 125 of its estimated 40,000deteriorating wells. It has taken Kentucky more than two decades to plug about 4,000 wells --and it has a waiting list of almost 13,000 more. Even Texas, which has invested heavily inabandoned wells, is years away from plugging all of its open holes. Since 1984, it has pluggedmore than 30,000 wells. But almost 10,000 are still open, and more are found and added tothe list all the time.Some regulators fear that the number of abandoned wells will grow when the current drilling boom [5] runs its course. Last year, oil and gas operators drilled almost 45,000 new wellsacross the United States, and that number is expected to hold steady or increase as the nationtries to wean itself from foreign oil. If even a small fraction of those wells is eventually abandoned, states will be left with the bill, just asthey were when the last boom ended in the mid-1980s.To prevent that from happening, states require energy companies to post bonds before they begin building their wells. But the bonds areoften so low that it can be more economical for a company to forfeit its bond rather than plug its wells. In Pennsylvania, for instance, anenergy company can cover hundreds of wells with a single $25,000 bond.John Hanger [6], who until January headed Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, called the bonds "scandalously low.""There are some choices you shouldn't put in front of even good companies," Hanger said. "I'd like to think the companies would do theright thing, but we know that just isn't always the case."
The Birthplace of an Industry 
One of Pennsylvania's worst cases of gas migration [7] occurred in the Borough of Versailles, a small, working-class community justoutside Pittsburgh. From 1919 through 1921, more than 175 gas wells were drilled in the town. Residents put wells in their backyards toheat their homes, packing them into the 25-by-100-foot lots.The boom dried up when most of the wells proved unproductive. But in the 1960s, pockets of gas began leaking into homes. Some houses were condemned and demolished, and Versailles eventually became a case study for federal scientists trying to locate old wells.Researchers studied old maps and walked the grounds with magnetometers, which detect the magnetic field from metal casings in the wells. If casings were never installed or had been removed, they could test the soil for hydrocarbons that might be leaking to the surface.Some of the old wells were plugged. But more often vents were installed to direct gas away from the homes. Today, dozens of pipes pop outof the ground in yards, behind garages and through houses, slowly leaking methane and hydrogen sulfide so the explosive gases don'taccumulate. In 2009 Versailles received a $368,600 federal grant to maintain its aging vents. About 50 methane alarms have also beeninstalled in the town.
12/8/12 9:10 AMDeteriorating Oil and Gas Wells Threaten Drinking Water, Homes Across the Country - ProPublicaPage 3 of 6http://www.propublica.org/article/deteriorating-oil-and-gas-wells-threaten-drinking-water-homes-across-the-co
Two vents allow natural gas to escape from the property bought by James Fleckenstein, the mayor of Versailles, Pa. Fleckenstein says the vents, which can be found throughout the town, are just a part of life inVersailles. (Nicholas Kusnetz/ProPublica)Versailles, Pa., as seen in 1920.
The vents and alarms are just part of life in Versailles. The mayor, James Fleckenstein,recently bought a house with two vents on the property and an alarm in the kitchen."We've been living with this problem forever," Fleckenstein said. "People would have a vent intheir yard burning 24 hours a day all year long, a one-inch pipe sticking out of the ground.People would put a coffee can and light it and it would just burn all the time."There's no longer enough pressure in the gas formation to make the vents flammable,Fleckenstein said, and the town hasn't had any problems with migrating gas for a couple of  years. But that could change at any time, said Fred Baldassare, who for years oversaw gasmigration cases for the Department of Environmental Protection and now runs a consulting business. Old wells can deteriorate or become clogged, he said, and conditions undergroundcan change.In February, gas from an abandoned well caused a small explosion just across the river from Versailles, in West Mifflin, Pa. The gas company evacuated the house where the explosionoccurred, as well as the house next door, where Nick Kellington lived with his wife and four children."I said 'How long are we packing for?' and he said 'I don't know,'" Kellington said. "Somebody tells you that, what do you do?"Kellington said the DEP, which declined to comment about the case, used old maps to identify a nearby well that may be the source of thegas. The Kellingtons are renting a townhouse while they wait for a state-hired contractor to fix the problem. Baldassare has been hired as asubcontractor.Every time the Kellingtons visit their former home, a gas company employee must first test the temporary vent that sticks out of their basement window. Even then, Kellington has to leave his cell phone outside, lest a spark ignite a pocket of gas.Finding and plugging an old well can be risky, because nearby wells may be disturbed and begin releasing gas. So, the Kellingtons' home is being fitted with a system that pumps air under the house, creating a high-pressure zone that would prevent the gas from leaking indoors.Kellington said that even if the system is installed successfully, he may try to sell the house and move."My wife just doesn't feel safe," he said.
 A 150-Year-Old Legacy 
Edwin Drake drilled the nation's first commercial oil well near Titusville, Pa., in 1859, and for decades people across the country drilled wells as they pleased. Some states didn't develop modern regulations until the second half of the 20th century.In the early days, the industry was dominated by "get-rich-quick wildcatters," said Dale Henry,a veteran of the oil and gas industry who ran unsuccessfully to sit on the Texas RailroadCommission, which regulates drilling in the state. Those who didn't get rich often ran out of money before they could plug or seal their wells, Henry said."They simply fold their tent, head into the darkness and you never hear or see them again," hesaid.Nobody knows how much damage abandoned wells have caused over the years. Most statesdon't systematically track cases of contamination that result from abandoned wells, said MikeNickolaus, special projects director for the Ground Water Protection Council, an association of state groundwater agencies."It might be a problem, it might not," Nickolaus said. "That's the problem you have. You can't just count up the numbers and say thatrepresents a big problem, a small problem or no problem at all."Despite the lack of comprehensive data, state and federal reports have chronicled scores of contamination cases over the last couple of decades.In 1989, the Government Accounting Office found nine cases [8] where abandoned wells had contaminated groundwater, including one

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