There’s solutions to state’s well woes

Contrary to Daniel Weaver’s assertions in “Increased bonding will not plug Pennsylvania’s abandoned oil and natural gas wells,” the simple truth is that conventional oil and gas well operators frequently abandon wells in Pennsylvania, and bonding is a solution to this ever-growing problem.

Currently, well bond amounts are far below the actual costs to plug a well. In these cases, companies are more likely to let wells remain abandoned and unplugged, often leaving the ultimate responsibility to the state and its taxpayers to cover the financial, health, and environmental burdens.

Weaver, from the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association, argues that a bond amount increase would have little impact on abandoned wells since the vast majority of abandoned wells were drilled before 1984 – before bonding requirements were put in place – limiting bond impacts to only seven percent of the 1,836 abandoned inventory.

This statistic is misleading for two reasons. First, the 1,836 figure only refers to wells that operators have self-reported as abandoned. The Department of Environmental Protection has listed another 20,580 additional wells as abandoned on top of the wells operators have self-reported as abandoned; and the Sierra Club have separately identified 31,195 additional wells on top of that that have not produced any oil or gas for over a year and are thus legally abandoned, but have not been listed as such by anyone.

Second, increasing bond amounts to match the actual costs of clean-up makes it more likely that operators will promptly cap and clean-up wells that are currently producing but are at risk of being abandoned in the future, making a bond increase relevant to all 117,179 active and temporarily inactive wells in Pennsylvania, and to the communities that live near these wells and suffer the harms of leaking methane and groundwater pollution.

Oil and gas companies have always been given preferential treatment in Pennsylvania, to the detriment of the communities that must contend with pollution and other environmental harms. Every day that passes without improving bonding requirements is another day that the oil and gas industry is let off the hook to continue polluting Pennsylvania communities.

Thomas Schuster is the director of the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania chapter.


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