Prove your humanity

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says Range Resources misclassified over 40 conventional gas wells while submitting inaccurate information to the state. The agency fined the gas drilling company $294,000 for the violations. 

State law says that when wells stop producing gas, they should be declared abandoned by their owner and plugged. DEP said Range requested these wells be considered ‘inactive’ — a kind of dormant status that doesn’t require the company to plug the well — even though they no longer produced any gas. 

“It’s the law: inactive wells need to be viable for future use. If wells are not viable for future use, then they should be classified as abandoned wells and are required to be plugged,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a statement.

The DEP began investigating the status of the company’s wells when it received an internal company document stating that one of them, the Shirocky Unit #1, a conventional gas well in Lower Tyrone Township, Fayette County, no longer produced any gas.

In its Sept. 29, 2017 application to reclassify the well as “inactive,” the company contended that the well was “of future utility and that signIfIcant reserves remain in place that Range Intends to produce.”

However, in an internal company memo Range sent to the DEP, dated three weeks earlier, a Range employee wrote that the well “has become incapable of economic production.”

DEP spokesman Jamar Thrasher said the conflicting information contained in the memo led the state to investigate other wells. The agency subpoenaed Range “for information related to other wells that Range Resources had requested inactive status,” the agency said in a statement. The DEP found the company had improperly requested inactive status for the 42 wells between 2013 and 2017. 

The state says there are between 200,000 to 500,000 orphaned or abandoned wells in Pennsylvania. These can leak methane, a potent agreenhouse gas, and other contaminants into the environment. 

“Abandoned wells can be an extreme hazard to the health and safety of people and the environment,” Thrasher said. “That contributes to air, water and soil contamination, so it’s an environmental hazard.”

In a consent agreement, the DEP said that the wells “do not have future utility or significant reserves remaining in place.” Range has plugged all but one of the wells. The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.