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Allegheny National Forest: What goes on behind the scenes? - Barbara Laxon

Who owns the mineral rights in the Allegheny National Forest in northwest-central Pennsylvania? A lot of companies seem to think they do. We found wells, tanks of all sorts, hoses draining who knows what into the soil and air. Large cleared areas for well pads. Roads all through- some relatively safe, some very much not. We found wells actively pumping and wells long abandoned.

What about abandoned wells? Once the company is no longer able to get enough gas and/or oil from a well they will either plug the well (more about this later) or they will just walk away and leave it as is. What does this mean? Just because there is not enough production for profit does not mean there is no oil or gas still coming up from underground. And what happens when those underground metal casings rust/rot? That oil or gas (along with whatever other elements (such as radon)) that will migrate out also depending on the depth of the well, will ooze through the rusted casings and into the ground and eventually into groundwater nearby. To quote an article from “climate and capitalism” this is what you get:

The contamination of aquifers and surface waters from gases, brines, liquid hydrocarbons, and hydraulic fracturing fluids. The contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, especially from venting methane. The explosion of methane accumulated in poorly ventilated areas. What does it mean to plug a well? The standard process of plugging wells involves pouring enough concrete into the well to go down as far as possible and fill the shaft. The industry will tell you that plugs last for 20 to 50 years. Let’s suppose that they last that full 50 years before the concrete cracks and begins to leak. Then it is replugged and leaks in another 50 years and so on until?? And what about wells that have been documented to leak in less than a year after being plugged? Let’s go back to those wells that have not been plugged. What happens when there is new drilling in the same area. That gas can migrate out of that unplugged well when newer wells breakthrough into the same formation. Also (see 3. above) when that methane gets into an aquifer and into water wells then into hot water tanks in someone's home and then if the methane is greater than 5% of the volume of the water you have a case for an explosion as happened in Bradford, PA in Feb 2011 and in Nov 2019 in Allegheny, NY, ( just across the border).

Following my mentor Laurie Barr (see article 2 below) into the Allegheny National Forest, I have been amazed at the damage easily seen. On one foray into the ANF, we were accompanied by two advocates from the group Earthworks with their specialized optical gas imaging FLIR camera. Earthworks uses this industry-standard technology to make visible the normally invisible air pollution from oil and gas operations. They detected leaks from a number of active wells, which you can see clearly in the example below. This tank battery was venting so much that they told us it might be the second-worst they had seen in the whole country. "You can view videos of leaky wells from our March trip in the ANF, and more pollution footage from around Pennsylvania, at bi.tly/CEP-PA. To learn more, visit"image.png

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