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Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)

On Monday, November 15, 2021, President Biden signed the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) into law. The IIJA allocates more than $1 trillion to advance various infrastructure projects across the nation. Among other things, this legislation has the potential to provide $400 million to Pennsylvania to plug abandoned and orphan (AO) oil and gas wells across the commonwealth over the next 10 years. This webpage documents how DEP is preparing to successfully utilize this increased funding in order to maximize the environmental protection, economic development, and public health and safety benefits associated with plugging Pennsylvania’s many AO oil and gas wells.

While the exact number of AO wells remains unknown due to the long history of oil and gas exploration in Pennsylvania, a 2015 study by the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, the University of Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources estimated that between 305,000 and 395,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania.

At this time, DEP can account for approximately 160,000 wells. Based on this research and current oil and gas well databases, DEP estimates there may be at least an additional 200,000 undocumented AO oil and gas wells in the commonwealth.

DEP recognizes that plugging AO oil and gas wells is an important step toward not only addressing the historic potential risks to public health, public safety and the environment posed by AO wells – but also to combatting climate change by potentially reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that, on average, each unplugged AO well emits 0.13 metric tons of methane annually. Recently published studies, including some conducted in Pennsylvania, have produced estimates ranging from 0.03 to 0.19 metric tons of methane emitted annually per AO well. These estimates vary based on limited data and the use of different standard methodologies to measure these emissions.

The 2012 Oil and Gas Act (58 Pa.C.S. §§ 3201-3274) authorizes DEP to plug AO wells, and DEP’s Well Plugging Program was established to plug oil and gas wells where there is no identifiable responsible party. DEP’s existing plugging program has prioritized its plugging efforts based on the threat to public health, public safety and the environment posed by an AO well. In general, an AO well is prioritized for plugging if that well has been determined to be associated with a stray gas migration investigation or if that well has a high score based on the agency’s internal scoring system.

Since the Well Plugging Program began, DEP has plugged more than 3,000 wells; however, a lack of adequate funding has restricted well plugging activities for AO wells over the past several years.

Funds to plug Pennsylvania’s AO oil and gas wells are collected via permit surcharges of $150 and $250 per oil and gas well, respectively. This amounts to the Well Plugging Program having an active budget of under $500,000 annually. While the cost to plug an abandoned well depends on multiple variables, including the condition of the well to be plugged, the location of the well and the level of complexity to plug, the Department estimates a cost of $68,068 is required to plug a typical AO well in Pennsylvania. As illustrated below, the permit surcharges have not been adequate to allow the commonwealth to sufficiently address the liability associated with Pennsylvania’s AO oil and gas wells.

Year 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Oil and Gas Wells Plugged by DEP4637105591817

Because of the historic level of funding provided for plugging AO wells under IIJA, DEP looks forward to significantly increasing the number of AO wells plugged in Pennsylvania. The Department is targeting IIJA funds to plug the currently documented inventory of approximately 27,000 known AO wells across the commonwealth. Included in DEP’s AO well plugging goals is meeting the US Department of Interior’s directives to comply with the Federal government’s Justice 40 initiative for Climate and Economic Justice.

President Biden’s Executive Order on Implementation of the IIJA can be found here: Executive Order on Implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act | The White House The items below are designed to summarize Pennsylvania DEP’s AO well plugging plans. This page is subject to change without advance notice. Viewers are encouraged to check back often. Additional information about DEP’s Abandoned and Orphan Well Program up until IIJA funding became effective is available by clicking here: Rewriting Pennsylvania's Legacy (pa.gov).

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