With the number of gas wells drilled in the Commonwealth since the inception of the industry [back in 1859], the potential exists for natural gas to migrate from the wellbore (via either improperly constructed or old, deteriorated wells) and adversely affect water supplies, as well as accumulate within or adjacent to structures such as residences and businesses. Collectively, this may represent a threat to public health, safety and welfare, and is a potential threat of a fire or explosion. The Department has documented such occurrences and these cases are provided in this document.
... The gas migration cases are organized into several categories: new wells, operating or active wells, legacy or abandoned wells, and wells associated with underground storage of natural gas.
New wells involve that initial phase of an oil or gas well when the well is being drilled or re-drilled, completed and put into production. For most wells, well completion involves hydraulic fracturing either immediately after the well is drilled or at a later date.
New Wells – Stray Gas Migration Cases
McNett Township, Lycoming County - East Resources – NCRO – July 2009: A natural gas leak from an East Resources Oriskany well was confirmed on July 27, 2009. Methane gas from the well impacted multiple private drinking water wells and two tributaries to Lycoming Creek, forced one resident to evacuate her home, and required the closure of access roads near the well. Company personnel took necessary measures to stop the gas leak at the well and stream and drinking water well conditions improved. The suspected cause of the leak is a casing failure of some sort. East Resources continues to monitor homes and wells in the effected area (approximately 6000 foot + radius) where methane has been documented and reports to the Department weekly. Methane was evident in some wells and the subsurface. One gas extraction system was installed at a residence. The investigation is on-going. The Northcentral Regional office expects to receive a report regarding the incident from East Resources in approximately 30 days.
Dimock Migration, Dimock Twp., Susquehanna County - Cabot Oil and Gas – NCRO - 2009: The Department is actively monitoring domestic water supplies and investigating potential cause(s) of a significant gas migration that has been documented in several homes along Carter Road. Free gas has been encountered in six domestic water supplies and dissolved has been found in several of the wells. The operator has placed pilot water treatment systems on three water supplies. Of particular note is that this area has not experienced previous drilling and recent gas drilling in the vicinity has targeted the Marcellus Shale.
Hedgehog Lane, Foster Twp., McKean County – Schriener Oil and Gas – NWRO – April 2009: The Department is actively investigating the report of fugitive gas in domestic water well. Prior to Departmental involvement, the company drilling gas wells in the area provided a new water well to an affected residence. After stray gas was evident in the water well, apparently the concerned resident approached the company directly, a new water well was provided and the impacted well was plugged with bentonite. Some time later, neighboring water well became impacted with stray gas and the resident contacted the Department. During the investigation, four gas wells were discovered over-pressured. Packers were placed in those over-pressured wells and the wells were brought into regulatory compliance. At this time, a response in the affected water well has not been observed. Complaints of water quality degradation and water diminutions are also under investigation in the area.
Little Sandy Creek Migration, McCalmont Twp., Jefferson County – NWRO – April 2008: In April, 2008 the Department was informed of a large fugitive expression in Little Sandy Creek. Subsequent investigation indicated the presence of combustible gas in the basement of a nearby residence. It was determined that the gas was entering the structure through an un-sealed sump opening in the concrete floor of the basement. The sump was vented through the wall and the threat to the home was minimized. During the investigation the Department discovered that two recently drilled gas wells were over-pressured and were producing from different geologic strata. Isotopic analysis indicated that a specific gas well was the probable source of the fugitive gas and measures were undertaken to reduce pressure on the casing seat. After continued monitoring at the residence, it was determined that the amount of gas in the sump was decreasing. The basement sump remains vented and the problem is dissipating.
Kushequa Migration, Hamlin Twp., McKean County – NWRO – September 2007: A stray gas migration caused a change in water quality and a minor explosion in a community water well. Combustible gas was also encountered in a few private water wells within the village. The Department investigated the stray gas occurrence in September of 2007 and through an investigation determined that a specific over-pressured gas well was the cause of the migration. Pressure was released from the potentially responsible gas well and a positive change in the impacted water well was rapidly noted. Additional production casing was placed in the suspect well to permanently resolve the problem. The responsible party was recently issued a Consent Order and Civil Assessment which they plan to comply. The Department issued a well plugging contract to plug 15 orphan wells adjacent to the water wells.
Alexander Migration, Hickory, Washington County – SWRO: It appears the operator affected an old abandoned well when completing a new well in the area. Stray gas occurs in the soils and contamination exists in private water supplies. DEP is evaluating several wells in the area. The investigation is ongoing.
Five Mile Run A, Knox Twp., Jefferson County – NWRO – April 2009: The Department was made aware that on April 18, 2009 fugitive gas began escaping from a domestic water well. During the investigation, the Department also encountered combustible gas in neighboring water well. At this time evidence is being gathered and it is likely that the cause of the fugitive gas migration may be linked to a recently drilled neighboring gas well. The Department is also investigating three reports of water quality problems that may be associated with the recent gas well drilling in the area. The fugitive gas in the water well is a recent problem and at this time is not linked to the gas in Five Mile Run that is approximately 2,500 feet away.
Five Mile Run, Knox Twp., Jefferson County – NWRO – 2008: Consistent gas streams have been identified at two locations within Five Mile Run. Isotopic samples were obtained in early 2008 and the analysis indicates that the gas is of thermogenic origin. It is unknown when the gas first appeared in the stream. At the time of sampling, only older historic wells (pre-1920’s) were in the vicinity. Presently the area is experiencing an increase in drilling activity. The permitted boundary for the Galbraith Gas Storage Field (operated by National Fuel Gas) is located approximately 4000 feet to the closest stream expression of fugitive gas. The source of the gas at this time is unknown.
Mix Run Migration, Gibson Twp., Cameron County – NWRO – Fall 2007: In the fall of 2007, the Department continued the investigation of fugitive gas reported in the water well of a seasonal residence. The presence of gas in the water well is sporadic with no apparent trends in its occurrence noted. The area has experienced no recent drilling although historic records indicate Oriskany gas was produced in the vicinity. All wells that could be identified and field verified within one mile of the stray gas location are in regulatory compliance. The closest gas well was plugged and a gas well with potentially compromised casing (approximately 3000’ away) was repaired. Gas was not present in the water well at the time of the last inspection in May, 2009.
Ohl Complaint, Hebron Twp., Potter County – NWRO – June 2007: The Department responded to a complaint of fugitive gas in a water well that serves a seasonal structure in June, 2007. Isotopic analysis indicated a possible similar thermogenic origin of the gas in the water well to a neighboring gas well. Initial efforts to vent the suspected gas well to atmosphere for an extended time failed to reduce the amount of gas in the neighboring water well. The new well owner placed a down-hole packer and additional production casing in the well. This action did not produce a reduction in the fugitive gas in the water well. The Department continues to investigate the complaint.
Miller Gas Migration, Liberty Twp, McKean County – NWRO – January 2008: Departmental personnel responded to a report of fugitive gas in a domestic water well that serves a seasonal residence in January, 2008. Investigation by Departmental field representatives discovered that two recently drilled gas well was over-pressured (exceeding the amount of allowable pressure on the casing seat). The operator Placed packers and additional production casing in the gas well, thereby eliminating pressure on the casing seat. The water well was aggressively pumped and over time the amount of combustible gas in the well bore decreased significantly. The gas well was brought back into production when the amount of gas was below the allowable amount.
Head Drive Migration, Millcreek Twp., Erie County – NWRO – Fall 2007. In the fall of 2007, the Department initiated an investigation into the report of fugitive gas in the vicinity of several homes along Walnut Creek. The discovery of fugitive gas in the soil near the residences, forced the Erie County Health Dept. to evacuate the neighborhood. The residents were displaced for at least two months. Through the use of isotopic analysis and with a through investigation performed by the Department’s field staff, it was determined that the recently drilled neighboring gas wells were the cause of the migration. Through a Consent Order with the Department, the responsible party plugged two defective gas wells and placed packers in the remaining gas wells. The case is presently in private litigation.
Hughes Migration, Hamlin Twp., McKean County – NWRO – June 2006: In June, 2006 the Department responded to two water quality/diminution complaints and determined that a change in water quality was evident. Over-pressured conditions were noted at a recently drilled nearby gas well. The gas well operator drilled new water wells for the impacted residences and gas was encountered during the drilling process. Subsequently, when the operator placed additional production casing in the gas well, the Department noted a marked decrease in the amount of gas in the recently drilled water wells. Over time the problem has diminished.
Foote Rest Camp Ground Migration. Hamlin Twp., McKean County – NWRO – Late 1990s: In the late 1990’s, the Department responded to a complaint of gas escaping from an abandoned gas well located in a wooded area near a private campground. During the investigation, it was discovered that an extremely large amount of gas (estimated at more than 100 Mcf/day) was venting from the abandoned gas well. The old well became activated when fracing was completed on a new gas well approximately 4000’away. Installation of production casing placed in the new well prevented additional gas from migrating to the abandoned well and the problem was resolved.
CLICK HERE for inventories of operating or active wells, legacy or abandoned wells, and wells associated with underground storage of natural gas.