CNX agrees to plug more than 100 abandoned wells in Western Pa. as part of settlement | TribLIVE.com
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CNX agrees to plug more than 100 abandoned wells in Western Pa. as part of settlement

Stephen Huba
1795108_web1_gtr-CNXorder2-101219
Courtesy of Penn State University
A leaking abandoned gas well.
1795108_web1_gtr-CNXorder-101219
Courtesy of Penn State University
An abandoned gas well.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has reached an agreement with CNX Gas Co. for the plugging of more than 100 abandoned wells in four counties.

The order includes 141 conventional coalbed methane and gas wells and five unconventional gas wells in Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Most of the wells are in Greene County.

Of the eight wells in Westmoreland, five are in Washington Township, two are in Bell Township and one is in Rostraver. All three of the Allegheny wells are in Plum, according to the settlement document.

“These settlements represent a major victory for Pennsylvania’s citizens and our environment, today and into the future,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.

As a result of the agreement, the Canonsburg-based company has agreed to plug the abandoned wells and restore the well sites on a schedule that could take up to seven years.

“We have always worked cooperatively with the DEP regarding our well plugging obligations, and are pleased that we were again able to arrive at an equitable agreement which reflects our firm commitment to safety and environmental compliance,” said CNX spokesman Brian Aiello.

CNX must plug at least five wells by the end of this year and at least 20 wells each year after that, according to the settlement agreement. Each well plugging must be accompanied by a “notice of intent to plug” and a plugging certificate.

In July 2018, DEP issued orders to several oil and gas operators, including CNX, to plug more than 1,000 abandoned oil and gas wells across the state. The order to CNX covered 327 wells at the time.

The wells included in the 2018 order but not in the 2019 settlement agreement are no longer owned or operated by CNX, said DEP spokeswoman Lauren Fraley. With this settlement, CNX has agreed to withdraw its appeal to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board.

The settlement also requires CNX to post a $1.48 million performance bond, which McDonnell hailed as a critical part of the agreement.

“Unfortunately, bonding amounts — in particular, blanket bonding — are woefully inadequate to actually plug an abandoned oil or gas well,” McDonnell said. “If a conventional well owner walks away, they’ve put up just pennies on the dollar and the commonwealth is forced to cover the rest. DEP’s compliance and legal staff were diligent in preventing that shift of liability and securing safeguards more reflective of true costs.”

The Oil and Gas Act requires owners and operators to plug wells upon abandonment. A well is considered abandoned if it “has not been used to produce, extract or inject any gas, petroleum or other liquid within the preceding 12 months.”

Pennsylvania has more than 9,000 confirmed orphan and abandoned oil and gas wells in its inventory and estimates hundreds of thousands of legacy wells may be unaccounted for, posing an environmental, public health and safety risk, according to DEP.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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