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Legislators take aim at uncapped wells

Roughly 60 abandoned oil and gas wells were plugged on the Cornplanted State Forest last year.

There are still at least 1,500 more abandoned wells in Warren County left to be capped, an enterprise that will cost millions of dollars. The federal government has set aside more than $400 million through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed earlier this year. The state will receive an initial $104 million and possibly receive more than $330 million in formula grants in future years.

Pennsylvania is expected to receive more orphan well funding than any other state except Texas.

That money won’t be enough to deal with all of the commonwealth’s orphaned wells, which have been estimated to number anywhere from 200,000 to 560,000.

Sen Gene Yaw, R-Bradford/Lycoming/Sullivan/Susquehanna/Union, has proposed selling 361,000 renewable energy credits (RECs) the commonwealth earns annually as part of its 15-year solar power procurement deal struck with Constellation to generate money to cap more wells. All told, the state could collect an estimated $165 million during the life of the contract for this purpose. The legislation Yaw sponsored to create the credits (SB 945) has passed the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, with support from Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-Butler/Clarion/Forest/Venango/Warren. A vote by the full Senate has yet to be held.

Selling the credits has been opposed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

“We all agree that capping abandoned wells conveys numerous health and public safety benefits,” Yaw wrote in a February op-ed. “But the problem requires a multi-billion dollar solution and it’s not prudent to fall back on the federal government alone to fix it. There’s no reason we can’t and shouldn’t leverage these credits to help fill the gap. Choosing not to sell the credits leaves millions of dollars on the table. It is, quite simply, a winning lottery ticket the state refuses to cash.”

At the same time, the influx of federal money to cap abandoned gas and oil wells prompted Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, to propose House bill 2528 to give Pennsylvania companies a preference when bidding for oil and gas well capping projects.

Struzzi said in his legislative memorandum that the state Department of Environmental Protection gives out-of-state contractors preference.

“A local company brought to my attention the fact that Pennsylvania-based companies can handle these jobs but are prevented from bidding on them due to the way DEP awards the contracts,” Struzzi said. “Considering the number of wells that need remediated, the department is allowing revenue derived from these projects and the jobs needed to complete them to escape our borders and be handled by competitors from neighboring states.”

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