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Orphan Wells Program

SENIOR VOLUNTEERS MARK 'ORPHAN WELLS' Initiative Protects Environment, Enhances Safety; If Successful, Program Will Be Used Throughout Pennsylvania

OIL CREEK STATE PARK (VENANGO COUNTY, PA): Close to the spot where the oil industry was born, in Oil Creek State Park, Pennsylvania Secretary of Environmental Protection Kathleen A. McGinty today is announcing that her department is providing funding for volunteers from the Pennsylvania Senior Environment Corps (PaSEC) to locate and mark orphan oil and gas wells. Orphan wells are non-producing, unclaimed or abandoned wells with no known owner.

"This pilot program trains and equip s senior volunteers to locate and mark these orphan gas and oil wells. This is a tremendous opportunity to protect the environment in this beautiful state park, and potentially throughout northwestern Pennsylvania, where thousands of these abandoned, orphan wells exist," Secretary McGinty said. "Oil can seep into and contaminate groundwater and surface water. Sinkholes can develop around these old wells, presenting a danger to hikers, hunters, and all visitors to Oil Creek State Park." Literally thousands of oil and natural gas wells were dug in rural northwestern Pennsylvania from the latter part of the 19th century on. Before state environmental laws were passed, these wells were often just abandoned when they ceased to be financially viable for their owners to keep operating. Now, these orphan wells, many located in wilderness areas amid rugged terrain, present an environmental and physical danger. Similar problems exist in many other oil and gas producing states such as Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming.

EASI, headquartered in Catlett, Virginia, is a national nonprofit that draws on the lifetime of experience and knowledge of our older citizens to protect and restore the environment in their own communities. EASI offers seniors the opportunity for active aging and visible, significant contributions to their well-being and the quality of life for generations to come.

"We are pleased to be involved with this effort in Pennsylvania," said Peggy Knight, Vice President of Programs for EASI. "Senior volunteers have the dedication and lifelong experience to make a difference to the environment and help achieve environmental objectives in this time of limited financial resources."

EASI trains PaSEC volunteers to find the wells and mark their exact location using handheld GPS units. The program also provides topographical maps, poles and flags to mark the well sites, protective clothing such as orange vests and heavy pants to protect volunteers from injury while walking through heavy underbrush, and hiking boots. Finally, the volunteers receive portable radios and walkie-talkies to keep in communication with state park personnel, for safety reasons. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources provides computer software for uploading information gathered by the GPS units in the field, other technical assistance, and the help of park rangers and other personnel to assist senior volunteers in the field. Once a well is located and marked, environmental officials will inspect the site and assess whether any action needs to be taken to protect the environment.

"This program is a wonderful chance for me and the rest of our group to spend time in the beautiful outdoors, while making a meaningful contribution to the community," said John Kolojejchick, one of the senior citizen volunteers participating in the Oil Creek pilot program.

All of the senior volunteers in this program are volunteers with the Pennsylvania Senior Environment Corps. This group, with volunteers in 51 of the state's 67 counties, trains senior volunteers to monitor water quality of rivers, creeks, and streams throughout the state. The group has 6 years of data collected in an online database (http://www.environmentaleducation.org).

Based on the initial success of the model program, EASI is preparing a training manual and field documentation forms to replicate the training and volunteer activities at other locations in the United States.

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For more information about the Pennsylvania Senior Environment Corps, please contact:

Beth Grove, PaSEC Coordinator (717) 244-6248 PaGreatSEC@aol.com

To find out more about the events at Oil Creek State Park on September 16, please contact:

Frieda Tarbell Ron Ruman Department of Environmental Protection PA DEP NW Regional Office (717) 787-1323 (814) 332-6816 Rruman@state.pa.us FTarbell@state.pa.us

 

As of October 2003, the Venango PaSEC volunteers have identified 57 potential orphan wells that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has included on its priorities list for remediation.  They have worked through the hot, humid summer weather and dense briar thickets to find the wells and look forward to an invigorating fall of continued success.

Oil Creek State Park, where the Venango PaSEC volunteers search for abandoned oil and gas wells, is a challenge to navigate!

 


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