Campaign to plug abandoned wells saves lives, creates prosperity


Western Pennsylvania was recently the site of a significant achievement, the plugging of the 200th abandoned or orphaned gas well in the state over the last 14 months. That’s more wells than the state was able to plug over the prior nine years. 

This accomplishment was more than just a numbers game, however. It represents a commitment by federal and state governments to environmental stewardship, public health, and sustainable and responsible economic growth. 

The Biden Administration’s federal clean energy and jobs program is directing unprecedented funding into Pennsylvania to plug these orphaned wells, and Governor Shapiro has made well-plugging with these dollars a top priority. With more than 5,000 abandoned wells identified so far in northwestern Pennsylvania, local counties —Erie, Venango, Warren, Forest, Mercer, Clarion, McKean — are especially ripe for these well-plugging efforts.

Why is this so important?

Over generations, companies have drilled oil and gas wells across Pennsylvania only to abandon them after going bankrupt or simply closing down. Many wells were abandoned years ago, before the state even tracked or regulated them. 

When not properly plugged, gas can leak into homes and other buildings, leading to explosions. An abandoned gas well was discovered near an Allegheny County home that exploded earlier this month, killing two people. 

Oil, gas, and other toxic substances from abandoned gas wells can seep into and pollute groundwater, causing serious health impacts for families living nearby. These wells also release methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more powerful at warming the planet in the short-term than carbon pollution. That’s why the environmental and public health benefits of plugging abandoned wells are considerable. 

This more aggressive campaign to plug wells is not only a lifesaver but a job creator and business generator. It provides opportunities for local businesses and their workers to expand their operations, hire more staff, and make significant contributions to the local economy, generating a ripple effect of economic benefits that are felt throughout the region.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has identified about 27,000 wells that have been abandoned in Pennsylvania. There are likely hundreds of thousands more abandoned wells not even identified, risking more explosions, groundwater contamination, and air pollution. Pennsylvania is believed to have more orphaned wells than any other state in the country. It’s therefore critical that the federal and state governments not let up on the well-plugging pace. 

The success of Pennsylvania’s well-plugging initiative illustrates what can be accomplished when environmental responsibility and economic development are not viewed as conflicting interests but as complementary components of a broader, more sustainable vision for the future. 

Marking the 200th well plugging in western Pennsylvania is more than a celebration of a milestone. It’s a powerful reminder that prioritizing the health of our planet can also be an investment in the welfare and prosperity of our people. 

Aaron Makatura is project coordinator for Appalachia at the nonprofit Environmental Health Project, headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since 2012, EHP has worked to defend public health in the face of oil and gas development. 

This article was originally published by a . Read the Original article here. .