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Murrysville is going to seal an old gas well, and state officials are evaluating many more

When Pamela Schrank’s family moved into their Murrysville home last May, she was told an old gas well at the edge of some woods on their property had been capped.

Pamela Schrank was told that the old gas well near her Murrysville home had been closed off when her family moved in, but it turned out not to be true.

Last fall, Schrank discovered that the well was not capped when she detected a methane odor while walking her dog near the well, causing her to feel dizzy and nearly faint.

Schrank experienced dizziness and nearly fainted after smelling the gas near the well on a hot day. She then contacted the gas company for help.

Schrank learned that her property is one of many with abandoned gas and oil wells, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The well on her property is an old gas well from the early 1900s that no longer has an owner, and it's one of 70 wells set to be filled with cement and capped using federal funds.

DEP plans to plug the well, along with a few others in the area, with the help of a contractor this summer.

Schrank expressed the urgency of addressing the issue as DEP officials and U.S. Rep. Summer Lee visited the well.

DEP oil and gas inspector supervisor Cliff Simmons referred to the well as a challenging situation.

Simmons highlighted the well's priority for attention due to its proximity to the Schrank house and its corroded, methane-leaking condition, emphasizing the dangers of methane as a greenhouse gas and an explosive hazard.

DEP's Dan Counahan also emphasized the danger of methane, noting its potential as an explosive hazard in confined spaces.

Counahan mentioned the harmful impact of brine water or oil leaking from the well on the environment.

Officials pointed out the potential of an abandoned gas well to release methane into nearby areas, including streams, water wells, and basements, based on its condition and surroundings.

Simmons mentioned that the methane leakage from the well is somewhat beneficial as it disperses, reducing the risk of underground issues and explosions.

He also explained that sealing the well at the surface could lead to problems underground, where gas migration typically begins.

Rep. Lee expressed concerns about the potential presence of benzene at abandoned wells, referencing a May report on 43 wells in Western Pennsylvania detecting carcinogenic compounds. study She was concerned about the presence of carcinogenic compounds found in a May report on 43 abandoned wells in Western Pennsylvania.

DEP officials acknowledge the daunting task of addressing the numerous abandoned wells in Pennsylvania, with around 27,000 identified and an estimated 350,000 undocumented wells.

The department had been spending about $1 million every year on sealing such wells, Counahan said. He mentioned that effort increased last year, thanks to $25 million received through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

At an average cost of $100,000 per well, he said, “Since January of last year, we’ve sealed more wells than in the nine previous years.”

That amount can be increased by the expense of gaining access across private property for the heavy machinery needed to seal wells and then restoring the affected land.

Schrank’s well should be among the first group to be dealt with using additional funds for sealing wells that DEP is expecting through IIJA: $76 million per year over the next four years.

As the DEP seals known abandoned wells, it will be on the lookout for additional ones nearby that require attention.

Don Hegberg, oil and gas program manager, said DEP has also applied for another $44 million in federal funding that would be provided in grants to active well operators. According to the DEP's prioritization and determination, that money would help to address some of Pennsylvania's estimated 69,000 underperforming conventional gas wells — those producing less than 15,000 cubic feet of gas per day.

Searching through old records and mining maps can only go so far in identifying more abandoned wells. Other actions DEP may take include aerial surveys to spot methane plumes and scanning for the presence of metal in wooded areas.

“One of our best resources is the public,” Simmons said, noting it helps when property owners such as Schrank report an odor of gas to 911 or discover potential well equipment on their land and notify DEP.

“We’ve been fielding quite a few calls,” he said.

Lee said she’s hoping a bipartisan bill she helped to introduce will assist with sealing abandoned wells.

“Both parties are recognizing this issue,” she said. “This seems like a monumental task.”

The Bipartisan Abandoned Well Remediation Research and Development Act would establish an abandoned wells research, development, and demonstration program at the Department of Energy. The bill passed unanimously through the Committee on Science, Space and Technology in September and is awaiting a vote by the full House.

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