HARRISBURG – Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter), Republican chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, today applauded the testimony of Arthur Stewart, owner of Cameron Energy Company in Warren County, as he set the record straight about orphan and abandoned wells, as well as well bonding in the Commonwealth.
The hearing was called by Democrat Chairman Greg Vitali and featured testimony by groups including the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and PA Environmental Digest.
“These groups claim wells are being abandoned in large numbers across the Commonwealth, and that simply isn’t true,” Causer said. “The ‘hundreds of thousands’ of wells to which they refer are those that were dug many decades or even more than a century ago for which the responsible party is no longer living. Rather than blame today’s operators for these legacy wells, we should be working together to plug them.”
To that end, Causer and Stewart advocated for full implementation of Acts 96 and 136 of 2022, which guide the use of federal infrastructure funds for well plugging. While the majority of the funding would go to the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) existing well plugging program, 20% would be directed to a new grant program designed to maximize use of the federal money and expedite well plugging by providing funding opportunities to experienced well-plugging companies. Thus far, DEP has dragged its feet on implementing the grant program. Watch Causer’s exchange with Kurt Klapkowski, acting deputy secretary for the Office of Oil and Gas Management, on the issue
Key takeaways from Stewart’s testimony include:
There is a difference between orphan and abandoned wells. Orphan wells are ancient wells, abandoned long ago, and for which there is no responsible party. An abandoned well typically belongs to a known responsible party and is considered abandoned when it hasn’t produced for a period of 12 months. DEP’s database shows 1,836 abandoned wells in the Commonwealth. The number of orphan wells is not known but is estimated to be more than 200,000.
DEP has more effective tools than bonding to go after a company that abandons wells, including civil and criminal penalties, fines and even jail time.
Higher bonding will not aid in plugging orphan wells, which pose the biggest challenge to the Commonwealth. It would, however, have dire consequences for small operators who would be forced to tie up greater capital in bonding, leaving less money available for updated equipment or salaries for employees.
“Conventional wells drilled since the imposition of bonding are not being abandoned like a fast-spreading cancer, and the outcry for higher bonding amounts is not supported by the statistical data. We are tired of fighting demagogues who preach a false narrative to pursue a global environmental agenda,” Stewart testified. “Every year my company plugs more wells than it drills; and my company has NO abandoned wells. There is no need to punish my company, and the entire cadre of responsible conventional operators, via unnecessary bonding, when: 1) bonded wells are not being abandoned at a reckless pace; and 2) the state already has an adequate solution in the laws that exist.”
Stewart closed his testimony by inviting committee members to visit conventional operations like his to see the wells they responsibly and routinely plug, the employees whose jobs would be in peril if unnecessary higher bonding is implemented and the people who can plug wells for half of what it costs DEP to do so.
View the entirety of Stewart’s testimony here
To watch the full hearing, click here