Sen. Casey visits Warren County to talk orphaned well funding

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton U.S. Senator Bob Casey speaks during an event held Wednesday at the Allegheny National Forest headquarters in North Warren. The focus of the session was discussing orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells and funding directed toward that challenge.

There are thousands of orphaned oil and gas wells across the Commonwealth, potentially 5,000 to 7,000 on the Allegheny National Forest alone.

It’s going to take concerted effort – and financial resources – to do something about it.

And U.S. Sen. Bob Casey was in Warren on Wednesday to highlight a substantial investment in that area.

Federal infrastructure legislation, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted in 2021, will bring $5,527,000 to plug 48 orphaned wells on the ANF as part of the bill’s Orphaned Wells Program.

Casey called that program “one of the aspects of the infrastructure bill that hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity. We aim to change that.”

Casey met with a group of primarily federal and state officials at the ANF headquarters in North Warren.

“The challenge presented by these orphaned wells will be with us for a while,” he said, acknowledging that there is a “long, long list of wells that need attention. (We’re) going to be talking about this for years.”

According to ANF Supervisor Jamie Davidson, there are 1,200 orphaned and abandoned wells that have been registered with the state Department of Environmental Protection.

But federal officials estimate there may be as many as 5,000 7,000 across the ANF.

“Just here in Pennsylvania, we’ve got a big challenge,” Casey said.

He stressed that addressing this issue is imperative for any elected federal and state officials, citing the section of the state Constitution that addresses the right of people to have clean air and pure water.

Those elected should have a “heightened duty to protect those natural resources,” he explained. “This is part of our job. Unfortunately at the federal level, (we) haven’t provided much in the way of resources over time.”

This funding starts to change that.

According to a joint release from Casey and Sen. John Fetterman, the funding will “address legacy pollution, including methane emissions and water contamination” and is “part of a larger strategy to ensure clean air and water for future generations of Americans and address employment challenges in energy communities nationwide.”

Casey acknowledged that this funding is, to some degree, a drop in the… well.

“(I) know that that provides the funding to clean up only some,” he said, “but it provides a good start. We’re going to have to make sure we make this funding available over time.”

Regardless, this funding “adds increments of dollars we’ve never had before,” calling this a “down payment.”

“We’ve talked and talked about infrastructure,” he added. “(We) haven’t done much about it at the federal level until now.”

Davidson said that the significance of oil and gas in local communities on the ANF “can’t be overstated,” noting that there are currently 13,000 active wells on the ANF.

“(We) continue to discover more and more of these wells throughout the forest every day,” she said. “We welcome these funds.”

Kurt Klapkowski, deputy secretary of oil and gas management for the Department of Environmental Protection, said that “being able to address this legacy pollution” is “game changing” in Pennsylvania.”

He said that there have been more wells plugged so far in 2023 than in the prior five years combined, calling it a “success story that we’re trying to tell.”

Klapkowski outlined some of the threats these wells pose – public health, air quality, methane emissions.

“Climate change is obviously a big one,” he said, also highlighting economic development impacts as people doing this work can now stay here rather than traveling to New York or Ohio on jobs.

ANF Public Affairs Officer Chris Leeser told the Times Observer that staff will be prioritizing what 48 wells will be plugged with this funding. Some of the funding will also be used to do inventory work on additional orphaned wells.

He said the wells plugged will be those where plugging would bring the most impact, such as wells near wetlands or property lines.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today