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U.S. House passes Summer Lee bill to find and deal with abandoned oil and gas wells

Cliff Simmons, an oil and gas inspector supervisor for the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection, points a methane sensor at an abandoned well on the Murrysville property of Pamela and Ivan Schrank on Thursday, March 28, 2024. Simmons visited the well site with other DEP officials, journalists and Rep. Summer Lee (PA-12). (Credit: Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
April 30, 2024

The U.S. House on Tuesday passed a bipartisan bill aimed at finding the thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells across the country, and studying how to better limit their environmental impact. 

The legislation would authorize the U.S. Department of Energy to establish a five-year program to improve the location data it has on abandoned wells — some 350,000 of which are believed to be unaccounted for in Pennsylvania alone. 

The bill — the Abandoned Wells, Remediation, Research, and Development Act — was the first piece of legislation sponsored by Pennsylvania Democrat Summer Lee to pass the full House. It passed by a vote of 333-75.

“We cannot and should not accept the fact that leaky oil and gas wells from the 1800s are poisoning our communities,” Lee said on the House floor Tuesday. “We must invest significant resources to research and develop solutions to this crisis — because it is still nearly impossible to track every abandoned well, and it is still too expensive to plug leaking wells. 

Pennsylvania has the second-largest number of abandoned oil and gas wells; only Texas has more. 

Lee visited the Murrysville home of Pamela and Ivan Schrank last month, after the couple discovered a leaky abandoned well on their property. During that visit, Pamela Schrank told Lee how she discovered the well, when she became dizzy while gardening in their backyard. The Schranks reached out to the state Department of Environmental Protection to have the well plugged before further damage occurred. 

The well on the Schranks’ property dates to sometime between 1905 and 1920, the DEP had estimated, and is approximately 1,400 feet deep. There are no records indicating who originally owned the well.

Pennsylvania’s DEP says it has some 27,000 abandoned wells documented.

As Lee noted, capping abandoned wells can be expensive, roughly $100,000 per well. The state DEP says there are not many companies that do the work of plugging or capping wells in Pennsylvania, but the agency is hopeful more companies will enter the field as funding to deal with the wells becomes available. 

The bill passed the House Science Space and Technology Committee last July. It now heads to the Senate for consideration. 

“While active wells support hundreds of thousands of jobs, legacy sites and abandoned wells can present environmental and economic problems,” U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Oklahoma), the bill’s primary Republican sponsor, said Tuesday. “This legislation will close the innovation gap and ultimately save federal dollars.”

Environmental organizations praised the legislation. 

“Orphaned oil and gas wells threaten public health and safety, the water we drink, and the climate,” Adam Peltz of the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement Tuesday. “This essential bipartisan bill will fund the research necessary to improve well plugging practices, find unregistered orphan wells in hard-to-reach places like streams, forests, farmland, and backyards, and develop beneficial clean energy uses for end-of-life wells.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.