In the Keystone State, it’s estimated that somewhere between 100,000 and 560,000 oil and gas wells remain unaccounted for in state records. (DrewMauck/Adobe Stock

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By Danielle Smith

January 31, 2023   

New funds will help plug abandoned oil and gas wells in the Keystone State, and should boost the region’s economy in the process.

It is a big job, since there are about 8,900 so-called “orphan” wells in the state, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The state has been awarded $25 million in federal funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Ted Boettner with the Ohio River Valley Institute said the bids have closed on five projects to plug 79 wells, totaling about $5.8 million.

“And the average cost per well is about $74,000, which is about $6,000 more than the Pennsylvania DEP originally estimated,” Boettner explained. “They’re also looking at additional wells to plug, so they’ll be putting more invitations to qualify, and more bids out soon for companies to bid on, to plug wells.”

The Department of Environmental Protection is now accepting bids for five more packages to plug a total of 84 more wells in rural Armstrong, Venango and Washington counties. The agency will also use $5 million in state funds, from legislation passed last year, creating a sustainable plan for plugging abandoned wells.

Boettner explained many of the orphan wells are old, and their operators are no longer around to seal them up. He said some are leaking dangerous amounts of methane, a pollutant 80 times stronger than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Boettner added installing cement plugs and mud will not only help the environment, but also the local economy.

“The idea of plugging these wells and boosting employment in the oil-and-gas industry – especially in rural, distressed areas, where these wells are located – can help create good-paying jobs, in mostly rural areas in Pennsylvania, and it could also be reducing pollution at the same time.”

He estimates every $120,000 spent plugging abandoned wells creates one job, for one year. It is a plus in areas where there are fewer fossil-fuel industry jobs in recent years.

Disclosure: The Ohio River Valley Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, and Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


Analysis Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection 11/15/2021
Orphan well funds Ohio River Valley Institute 01/17/2023
House Bill 2644 (2022) 07/19/2022
Well-plugging program Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection 2023