DEP Launches Good Samaritan Outreach to Promote Abandoned Oil and Gas Well Plugging Projects

Harrisburg, PA – The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is encouraging private-sector partners to become Good Samaritans, by participating in a program that helps cap dangerous abandoned oil and gas wells statewide. The program protects them from liability for their role in helping reduce the health, safety, and environmental hazards of these wells.

“Our 150-year history of oil and gas drilling, much of it before environmental regulations were implemented, has left Pennsylvania with a challenging legacy: plugging thousands of abandoned wells that were left open,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “We encourage private-sector groups or individuals to take advantage of the Environmental Good Samaritan Act to help reduce risk and improve the local environment for many Pennsylvanians.”

The Environmental Good Samaritan Act of 1999 protects groups and individuals who volunteer to implement qualifying environmental remediation projects from civil and environmental liability. The Act doesn’t provide immunity for injury or damage that may result from reckless, unlawful, or grossly negligent acts or omissions.

While the Act historically has been used for mine reclamation, DEP first applied it to two oil and gas well projects in 2017. Cameron Energy plugged a well in Warren County that had been discharging crude oil to the ground and nearby streams, and Chemtrade Logistics plugged a leaking gas well in Elk County. These projects are estimated to have saved DEP $60,000 to $85,000, in addition to administrative cost savings related to contract development and management.

Three more project proposals are currently under review, and DEP welcomes others.

The agency has developed online training to walk volunteers through the process of submitting a project proposal and applying for the liability protection. In addition, the eFACTS environmental database and Oil and Gas Mapping Tool have been updated to provide an inventory of Environmental Good Samaritan project proposals for abandoned wells in Pennsylvania.

Volunteers enjoy reduced liability, and can develop the land at or near the well site more quickly than if they had to wait for DEP to plug the well, given limited state funding.

Questions about well plugging through the Environmental Good Samaritan Act can be addressed by contacting the DEP Bureau of Oil and Gas Planning and Program Management or the district office where the project is located.

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