Rewriting Pennsylvania’s Legacy
Abandoned and Orphan Well Program
It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania since 1859. Although owners and operators are legally responsible for plugging wells when oil and gas production is no longer economically viable, this does not always happen. In addition to the wells that were drilled historically – prior to regulations pertaining to well decommissioning – there are instances in which an oil and gas company files for bankruptcy protection or moves out of the commonwealth, leaving its wells improperly abandoned. There are also circumstances when DEP must address wells purchased by or transferred to landowners who are not familiar with the financial and regulatory responsibilities associated with becoming a well owner/operator in the commonwealth (reporting, well integrity assessments, possible environmental investigative work, and ultimately providing well decommissioning costs that range from tens of thousands of dollars to over $100,000.) Whatever the mechanism, there remain many thousands of abandoned wells in the commonwealth that have no identifiable responsible party to complete plugging.
DEP's Well Plugging Program was established under the authority of the Oil and Gas Act to plug oil and gas wells where there is no identifiable responsible party. If not addressed properly, wells have the potential to cause health, safety, environmental and economic concerns. The Act also established permit surcharges that range from $150 to $250 per new oil and gas well permit. These surcharges are paid by well operators and deposited in accounts established for well decommissioning activities conducted by DEP. Although well intentioned, the surcharges are not sufficient to allow the commonwealth to address the liability associated with legacy oil and gas wells.
If you discover a well on your property, DEP is available to ensure that it has been properly identified and that any potential environmental, health and safety issues are addressed, as resources allow. You can contact DEP by calling one of the Oil and Gas District offices:
- Meadville District Office: 814.332.6860
- Williamsport District Office: 570.327.3636
- Pittsburgh District Office: 412.442.4024
- Central Office: 717.772.2199