This spring, Penn State is looking for what they call “citizen scientists” to help find abandoned oil and gas wells across the state of Pennsylvania.
According to Terry Noll, the project manager and research assistant, there are an estimated 2,370 abandoned oil wells scattered throughout the state. Why is it important to find them? Abandoned wells that have not been properly plugged can be a source of contamination in freshwater aquifers, can contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and can cause oil and gas reservoir problems.
Penn State researchers will be training local residents through late February to find both abandoned and orphaned oil wells and record data about them. But the process of finding these wells is no easy task. Initially, volunteers must do extensive research of county and municipal documents, historical societies, and online resources to determine which areas might have been drilled.
After research, volunteers will do fieldwork, looking for common signs of historic oil and gas development like abandoned pipes, tanks, pumping jacks, and metal debris. Once a well is found, volunteers must record the latitude, longitude, and elevation of the well, take photos, and record other observations. After that, data is reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Abandoned and Orphan Well Program.
The project is funded by a grant of more than $2 million from the National Science Foundation called “Marcellus Matters: Engaging Adults in Science and Energy.” The program, Noll said, is certainly about finding the oil wells, but also engaging adults in the state on environmental and geological topics in an informal environment and helping them to learn how the environment influences the world around them.
Besides recording information about the wells, scientists are also looking at how people deal with large changes entering their communities — changes like the Marcellus Shale drilling that’s been happening in so many Pennsylvania communities lately. Researchers are interested in how people deal with such changes, how they perceive the risks related to new energy developments, and how their perceptions change once they’ve been educated on and engaged in the science behind the matters.
If you’re interested in helping with this project, contact Terry Noll at [email protected] or 814-865-6598.