Commonwealth Begins Plugging Legacy Wells In Cornplanter State Forest

Cornplanter State ForestImage: PA Department of Conservation And Natural Resources

HARRISBURG, PA — The departments of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and Environmental Protection (DEP) announced work is beginning to plug 12 abandoned oil and gas wells in the Cornplanter State Forest, Forest County.

“Proper plugging of these legacy wells will provide immediate benefits to the air, land, and water in the Cornplanter State Forest as well as eliminating potential safety issues for state forest visitors,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said.

“Pennsylvania has been home to oil and gas wells for more than 150 years, and now many of these orphaned wells from yesterday are polluting our environment today,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “This project begins to address the enormous backlog of orphaned wells in Pennsylvania.”

The 12 wells, some of which are believed to have been in the forest since the 1920s, are located in Harmony Township.  This is the first phase of a four-phase project in this area.

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Old, decaying orphan wells not only act as a significant source of climate-warming methane emissions, but in many cases, can leak oil and gas into water, soil and sometimes nearby homes, creating an explosion hazard.

Benefits associated with the Cornplanter project include:

  • Conservation of approximately 1,260 acres of state forest land;
  • Protection of cold-water fisheries that include Hunter Run, McCaferty Run, Jamison Run, and Dawson Run;
  • Reduction in methane emissions to the atmosphere;
  • Protection of public trail users and valuable recreation areas including Hunter Run Trail System and Lashure Interpretive Trail;
  • Increased opportunities for forest management; and
  • Increased availability of public lands for healthy, outdoor recreation without risk of injury.

DCNR is committed to addressing impacts from abandoned legacy wells on public lands. The department provided funding to the DEP Well Plugging Program to manage contracts to properly plug abandoned wells where no responsible party can be identified.

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DCNR bid the project and is responsible for overall project management and contract oversight. DEP provided the technical specifications for the contract documents and also will provide on-site inspection services of the work.

The contract was awarded to Howard Drilling, LLC, of Mount Jewett.

There are believed to be more than 156 abandoned wells on state forest land. Statewide, there are more than 8,700 abandoned wells in Pennsylvania, but DEP estimates that there are an additional 200,000 orphan wells across the state.

President Joe Biden‘s recently announced “American Jobs Plan” includes investing $16 billion to cap hundreds of thousands of orphan oil and gas wells and abandoned mines, which would create good jobs in those communities where the orphan wells and mines exist as well as address the ongoing environmental impacts of leaking methane and brine.

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