Drilling for Oil and Gas in the United States has a long history, extending back to 1859 when the Drake Well, the first successful commercial oil well, was drilled in northwestern Pennsylvania. Because of its long history, the state has become a hotspot for abandoned wells, which frequently release hazardous contaminants and potent greenhouse gases like methane into the atmosphere.
There are approximately 200,000 abandoned wells in Pennsylvania. Some of them are found in the woods, along riverbanks, in people’s yards, and even within their homes. After their owners, usually Oil and Gas corporations, go bankrupt, or the wells fall into disrepair, these wells are abandoned and handed over to the state.
According to the EPA, there are over 2 million abandoned wells across the country. When the wells are under state control, the government is responsible for plugging them when they break. We followed Don Cornell of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to a Bradford emergency call to cover a leaking well in someone’s backyard in early June.
Cornell claims that most wells they deal with date from the early 1900s, with no present owner and corporations that have long since vanished or gone bankrupt. “This old Oil and Gas well came in because the landowner had a complaint. He noticed he had a puddle of oil in his backyard,” said Cornell. “I’ve been in this position now for almost 11 years and I’m still amazed with what we come across, where the wells are in streams in the river — islands on the Allegheny River, there’s wells there.”