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DEP Begins Emergency Project To Plug Abandoned Conventional Gas Wells In Scott Twp., Allegheny County; DEP Tried To Get Well Operators To Stop The Leaks For Nearly 9 Years
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On February 5, the Department of Environmental Protection announced it has begun an emergency project to plug two leaking abandoned natural gas wells along Scrubgrass Road in Scott Township, Allegheny County.

Two additional wells will be plugged in the same area using federal well plugging funds.

[DEP has been trying to get the operators of the wells-- Economy Natural Gas Inc. and Michael Harju (who actually share the same address in Armstrong County)-- to stop the gas leaks and plug the wells for nearly nine years, according to DEP inspection reports.

[According to DEP’s eFACTS database, Michael Harju operates 158 conventional wells, 13 of which are listed as abandoned and Economy Natural Gas Inc. operates 110 conventional wells.

[The four wells that are part of this announcement were listed as abandoned by DEP on inspection reports since the same date-- April 14, 2015.

[On June 3, 2023, DEP published notice in the PA Bulletin it is taking action to enforce an order against Michael Harju and Economy Natural Gas, Inc. for their failure to plug the four conventional natural gas wells leaking methane that are part of the project announced this week.  Read more here.]]

At Gov. Josh Shapiro’s direction, DEP is aggressively working to plug leaking oil and gas wells across Pennsylvania using state and federal funds.

So far, under the Shapiro Administration, DEP has plugged 169 orphaned and abandoned wells.

[In 2023, DEP issued at least 512 notices of violation to 95 conventional oil and gas well operators for new or continuing well abandonment.  Read more here.]

On Tuesday, February 6, 2024, DEP’s contractor will begin plugging two leaking abandoned wells [compliance history added]--

[-- Nixon 501-1 (003-00960): The well is operated by Economy Natural Gas Inc. based in Spring Church, Armstrong County, according to DEP records.

[This well was listed as abandoned by DEP in an inspection report on April 14, 2015 (report not available), but it noted ‘no adverse event or action reported.

[This well was listed as abandoned by DEP in an inspection report on April 21, 2016  (report not available).]

[The well was inspected by DEP on October 1, 2017 and violations were issued, but the inspection report is not available.

[This well was inspected by DEP on January 29, 2018 and issued notice of violation for being abandoned (inspection report not available). 

[A follow up inspection on March 14, 2018 found the well abandoned and leaking gas.  DEP’s inspection report did not record any follow-up actions.

[On July 29, 2020, DEP inspected the well in response to complaints it was leaking gas and issued notices of violations for that and for abandoning the well without plugging it.   DEP’s inspection report gave the operator until September 1, 2020 to submit a plan for bringing the well into compliance.  Obviously, it wasn’t.

[On March 17, 2021 DEP inspected the well and found it was leaking gas and issued notices of violation related to that leaking and for abandoning the well without plugging it.  DEP’s inspection report gave the operator until April 12, 2021 to submit a plan for bringing the well into compliance.  Obviously, there was no satisfactory response.

[On February 1, 2022, DEP received complaints about gas leaking from the well, including Allegheny County 911 calls.  DEP’s inspection report said the “Department is working with the operator to address these recurring complaints.”  No notice of violation was issued at that time.

[DEP began meeting with contractors on February 28, 2023 to solicit bids on plugging this well [DEP inspection report] and most recently on January 30, 2024 in a pre-plugging inspection [DEP inspection report].

[-- Nixon 501-3 (003-00962): The well is operated by Michael Harju based in Spring Church, Armstrong County, according to DEP records. 

[This well was listed as abandoned by DEP in an inspection report on April 14, 2015  (report not available), but noted ‘no adverse event or action reported.

[This well was listed as abandoned by DEP in an inspection report on April 21, 2016 (report not available).]

[This well was inspected on March 14, 2018 and found to be “leaking more gas than it did on previous inspections, but no violations issued in DEP’s inspection report.

[On July 29, 2020, DEP inspected the well in response to complaints it was leaking gas and issued notices of violations for that and for abandoning the well without plugging it.   DEP’s inspection report gave the operator until September 1, 2020 to submit a plan for bringing the well into compliance.  Obviously, it wasn’t.

[On March 17, 2021, DEP inspected the well and found it was leaking gas and issued notices of violation related to that leaking and for abandoning the well without plugging it.  DEP’s inspection report gave the operator until April 12, 2021 to submit a plan for bringing the well into compliance.  Obviously, there was no satisfactory response.

[DEP’s eFACTS database says on January 26, 2022, $3,200 in bonds from Michael Harju were forfeited on abandoned well(s) based on an April 8, 2020 notice of violation.

[DEP began meeting with contractors on February 28, 2023 to solicit bids on plugging this well [DEP inspection report] and most recently on August 15, 2023 [DEP inspection report].]

How Projects Will Proceed

DEP’s contractor will be removing trees and potentially flaring the wells in preparation for plugging. Flaring is the controlled burning of natural gas from a well and may be necessary to evacuate gas from the well to ensure it can be safely plugged.

The project is expected to take about a month to complete with a goal to permanently eliminate the potential for these wells to leak methane.  

Due to the increasing methane levels, DEP has determined that this project is necessary to protect public health, safety, and the environment.

Without this emergency project, the well could continue to deteriorate and stray methane gas could migrate into nearby sewer lines through the soil.

The existing two leaking abandoned wells increase the risk of gas levels accumulating to unsafe levels if adverse weather conditions exist which would prevent the gas from dissipating. DEP will monitor stray gas while plugging the well.

DEP previously performed an emergency mitigation project in 2019 to address stray soil gas in the area.

Recently, methane levels around the wells increased, and DEP and Scott Township officials have received a number of odor complaints around the Kane Woods Nature Area.

“Orphaned and abandoned gas wells dot Southwestern Pennsylvania in rural and more populated areas, representing potential threats to human health, safety, and the environment,” said Director of District Oil and Gas Operations, Dan Counahan. “We’re mobilizing emergency crews to mitigate this hazard as quickly as possible.”

Flaring Leaking Gas During Plugging

DEP inspectors have been onsite during the set up of well plugging operations on the Nixon 501-1 where a flare was brought in to burn off the gas coming from the abandoned well.

The DEP inspection report for February 9, 2024 notes the flaring operation and said “there is a potential that the Nixon 501-1 and Nixon 502-1 [one of the other abandoned wells to be plugged in this group] are connected.”

Click Here for a video of abandoned well gas flaring operations. [The Energy Age Blog]

DEP has allocated unprecedented resources to plug orphaned and abandoned wells, which allowed Pennsylvania to leverage millions in federal funding.

Two More Wells To Be Plugged

Two additional wells in this area are slated to be plugged later this year using federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funds.

DEP has been trying to get the operators of these wells to deal with continuing violations at these wells since April 14, 2015 [compliance history added]--

-- Nixon 501-4 (003-00963): The well is operated by Michael Harju based in Spring Church, Armstrong County, according to DEP records.

[DEP began listing the well as abandoned in an April 14, 2015 inspection report.

[DEP inspected the well on April 21, 2016, with results unknown (inspection report not available), but the well is listed as abandoned.

[DEP inspected the well July 12, 2017, July 17, 2017, August 1, 2017 and November 30, 2017, but no violations were noted.

[On March 14, 2018 DEP inspected the well and found it to be venting “a steady flow of gas.”  No violations were issued.

[A DEP inspection report on October 7, 2019 noted the well “continues to vent a significant volume of gas that can be smelled in [the] valley.”  No violations were issued or follow-up action noted.

[On July 29, 2020, DEP issued notices of violation for this well on abandoning the well without plugging it and for venting gas. DEP’s inspection report requested the operator to submit a plan by September 1, 2020 to bring the well into compliance.  Obviously, it wasn’t.

[In a March 17, 2021 inspection, DEP said a “DEP-installed vent continues to vent stray gas from casing leak,” but obviously did not stop it.  DEP’s inspection report continued previous violations.

[DEP began meeting with contractors on February 28, 2023 to solicit bids on plugging this well [DEP inspection report].  DEP last inspected the well on August 15, 2023 in the process of soliciting well plugging bids [DEP inspection report].]

-- Charter 502-1 (003-00964): The well is operated by Michael Harju based in Spring Church, Armstrong County, according to DEP records.

[DEP began listing the well as abandoned in an April 14, 2015 inspection report.

[DEP inspected the well on April 21, 2016, with results unknown (inspection report not available), but the well is listed as abandoned.

[On October 12, 2018, DEP inspected the well and found it to be leaking gas, but no violations were issued or follow-up action noted in DEP’s inspection report.

[DEP inspected the well on September 18, 2019 and found the “gas leak persists.” No violations issued or follow-up action noted.

[On July 29, 2020, DEP issued notices of violation for this well on abandoning the well without plugging it and for venting gas. DEP’s inspection report requested the operator to submit a plan by September 1, 2020 to bring the well into compliance. Obviously, it didn’t happen.

[A DEP inspection on August 9, 2021 noted the gas leak continues.

[DEP began meeting with contractors on February 28, 2023 to solicit bids on plugging this well [DEP inspection report].  DEP last inspected the well on August 15, 2023 in the process of soliciting well plugging bids [DEP inspection report].]

Orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells can leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas, that contributes to climate change.

Methane can migrate into buildings and water supplies. Pennsylvania has over 30,000 orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells on its inventory and hundreds of thousands of legacy wells may be unaccounted for, posing a major financial liability and environmental, public health, and safety risk.

Resource Links

DEP’s Oil and Gas Program inspection reports are available online at the Inspection Reports Viewer.  Check oil and gas operator compliance history at DEP’s Oil & Gas Compliance webpage.

Visit DEP’s Abandoned Conventional Oil & Gas Well  and federal Conventional Oil & Gas Well Plugging Program webpages for more information.

(Photos: Conventional natural gas wells Nixon 501-1, Nixon 501-3,  Nixon 501-4, Charter 502-1)

Related Articles - Abandoned Wells:

-- DEP Issued At Least 512 Violations To 95 Conventional Oil & Gas Operators For Abandoning Wells Without Plugging Them In 2023; 10 Shale Gas Operators Were Issued NOVs For Abandoning Wells  [PaEN]

-- Gov. Shapiro: We Need Stronger Laws To Deal With The ‘Corporate Greed’ That Let Oil & Gas Operators Get Away With Abandoning Wells For Far Too Long [PaEN]

PA Oil & Gas Industry Public Notice Dashboards:

-- Just 14 Days: PA Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - Jan. 27 to Feb. 9 - More Abandoned Conventional, Shale Gas Wells; Spills, Venting Gas, Contaminated Water Supplies  [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices, Opportunities To Comment - February 10 [PaEN]

-- DEP Posted 74 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In February 10 PA Bulletin  [PaEN]

Related Articles This Week:

-- DEP Begins Emergency Project To Plug Abandoned Conventional Gas Wells In Scott Twp., Allegheny County; DEP Tried To Get Well Operators To Stop The Leaks For Nearly 9 Years  [PaEN]

-- Guest Essay: DEP Ignored Abandoned Wells During Oil & Gas Wastewater Injection Well Permitting Process - By Laurie Barr, Save Our Streams PA  [PaEN] 

-- DEP OKs Cameron Energy Applications For Plugging 3 Orphan Conventional Wells Under Blanket Bond Increase Waiver Program; Denied 1 Plugged Well Leaking Crude Oil  [PaEN]

-- PA Utility Law Project, Public Citizen Host Feb. 16 Webinar Exploring The Impact Of LNG Natural Gas Exports On Pennsylvania Families  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Hearing Board Narrows, But Allows Protect PT Appeal Of Shale Gas Well Permit Renewals In Westmoreland County To Move Forward   [PaEN]

-- Liberty Twp., Citizens Group Appeal EHB Decision On Permit For Tri-County Landfill In Mercer County Over Threats Posed By Birds, Radioactive Oil & Gas Waste  [PaEN]

-- PJM Reports Natural Gas Power Plants Were Over Half The Forced Outages During Winter Storm Gerri In January; Special Procedures Used For Gas Generators Raised Questions About Market Impacts  [PaEN]

NewsClips:

-- Philadelphia Medicine Magazine: Pitt Drops A Bombshell - The PA Health And Environment Studies On Fracking - By Dr. Ned Ketyer, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania

-- Physicians For Social Responsibility Pennsylvania: Fact Sheet On Deal Between Gov. Shapiro, CNX Natural Gas Driller Allows Voluntary Self-Regulation Of A Fracking Company

-- Inside Climate News: In His First Year As Governor, Josh Shapiro Forged Alliances With The Natural Gas Industry, Angering Environmentalists Who Support Him

-- Inside Climate News: Q&A: New Rules In PA Require Drillers To Disclose Toxic Chemicals Used In Fracking

-- TribLive: Environmentalists, Natural Gas Drillers’ Group Divided On Transparency On Fracking Fluid Disclosures

-- The Energy Age Blog: PA DEP Begins Emergency Project To Plug Abandoned Conventional Gas Wells [Video From Plugging Site]

-- TribLive: Penn Township Board Will Visit Proposed Hyperion [Olympus Energy] Natural Gas Compressor Site

-- Inquirer - Will Bunch: Democracy Dies When PA Pols Tell Their Own Voters To Drop Dead On Fracking  [Proposed LNG Plant In Chester, Delaware County]

-- Markets Insider: New Study Questions LNG Natural Gas As A ‘Bridge Fuel’ In Decarbonization

-- Forbes Guest Essay: US Natural Gas Prices Could Spike 14% Without Biden’s Pause On New LNG Export Terminal Permits Costing Consumers $18 Billion

-- Environmental Integrity Project: Biden’s Pause In New Permits For LNG Natural Gas Facilities Won’t Slow The Flow Of US Natural Gas Abroad

--  Daily Herald - Salena Zito:  Democrats Say Biden’s Pause On New LNG Natural Gas Export Facilities Is Like ‘Throwing A Match In A Bale Of Hay’ [PA included]

-- Bradford Era: Feb. 10 Town Hall In Cyclone, McKean County To Discuss Appeal Of Catalyst Energy, Inc. Oil & Gas Wastewater Injection Well Permit

[Posted: February 5, 2024]


2/12/2024

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