Pennsylvania Conventional Well Map Update
While most of the attention on the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania has focused on the massive, unconventional well pads in recent years, there are hundreds of thousands of conventional wells in the state, and over 100,000 of those are still considered active. This article explores the state’s known inventory of conventional wells.
Conventional wells are often lost in the conversation around Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry. They’ve been around since the 1800s and produce just 2% of the state’s gas. But because of these factors, they’re under-regulated, and often don’t have emission reduction technology, allowing them to leak large volumes of dangerous, climate-changing gases.
An analysis of 2017 emission data by the Environmental Defense Fund found that conventional wells leaked more methane (an estimated 599,200 short tons) than unconventional wells. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. And leaky wells also pose immediate threat to public health. Toxins like hydrogen sulfide and benzene also leak from wells and can harm the health of people living nearby.
There are still thousands of active conventional wells in Pennsylvania and more are permitted each year. We’ve updated our conventional well map to help the public identify wells in their neighborhood and to remind state leaders that plans to manage the decline of the oil and gas industry and curb climate emissions must address conventional wells.
Watch Earthworks’ footage of fugitive emissions from conventional wells in Pennsylvania.
Conventional and Historical Wells in Pennsylvania
This map explores the state’s known inventory of conventional wells. View the map “Details” tab below in the top right corner to learn more and access the data, or click on the map to explore the dynamic version of this data. Data sources are also listed at the end of this article. In order to turn layers on and off in the map, use the Layers dropdown menu. This tool is only available in Full Screen view.
This map also includes historical wells. The historic well dataset shows 30,527 potential historic oil and gas well locations in southwestern Pennsylvania, identified from old mining maps.
View Full Size Map | Updated 3/1/2021 | Data Tutorial
Many consider unconventional wells to be the ones that use hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which is the process of injecting a water mixture into underground shale rock formations to fracture it. As such, the terms fracked and unconventional are often used interchangeably. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection defines an unconventional well as: a well that is drilled into an Unconventional formation, which is defined as a geologic shale formation below the base of the Elk Sandstone or its geologic equivalent where natural gas generally cannot be produced except by horizontal or vertical well bores stimulated by hydraulic fracturing.
The PA DEP defines an “Active” well as one where a “permit has been issued and well may or may not have been drilled or producing, but has not been plugged.”
Over the past decade, there have been an average of roughly 600 conventional wells drilled in the state per year, with numbers trending downward. There was a steep drop off in drilling new conventional wells in 2009, corresponding with the rise of unconventional drilling (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Wells drilled per year in Pennsylvania, 2001-2002. Source: PA DEP Open Data Portal
Roughly 89% of active wells listed in Pennsylvania’s database are conventional (note, active does not mean that the well has been drilled according to the PA DEP definition). However, unconventional wells make up the bulk of gas produced (Figure 2).
Fracking technology has exploded the shale rock beneath us, releasing gas from previously unreachable reserves and creating a much greater supply of fossil fuels than residential energy demands. For example, unconventional wells in Pennsylvania produced enough gas in 2018 to meet the residential consumption of everyone in the United States – plus an extra 1.7 trillion cubic feet.
The industry is building new infrastructure to export gas and convert it into petrochemicals in an attempt to sell this glut, sacrificing the health of Pennsylvania communities for private profit.
Figure 2. Gas produced by conventional and unconventional wells, per year in Pennsylvania, 2001-2020. Source: PA DEP Production Reports
Where are they?
While unconventional wells make an arc from southwestern Pennsylvania to the Northeast, following the Marcellus Shale formation, conventional wells are most concentrated in the Northwest, particularly Warren and McKean counties.
Active Conventional Wells Concentration by Pennsylvania County
This map shows the concentration of conventional wells by Pennsylvania county. View the map “Details” tab below in the top right corner to learn more and access the data, or click on the map to explore the dynamic version of this data. Data sources are also listed at the end of this article.
View Full Size Map | Updated 3/1/2021 | Data Tutorial
There are roughly 185,000 conventional wells in the Pennsylvania DEP’s database. With that many wells, it’s not uncommon to come across conventional wells on farms, in forests, or in people’s backyards.
As mentioned before, roughly 100,000 of these wells are considered “active,” and included in our maps above (figure 3). Many of these active wells are likely low-producing wells that operators should plug, but have neglected to do so. That means there are over 84,000 wells with some other type of status. Every well that is not listed as active should ideally be plugged (either by the DEP, see DEP Plugged, or by its operator, see Plugged OG Well below), and state regulators should be managing the decline of the industry by plugging active wells and transitioning to alternative energy sources.
Figure 3. Conventional wells by status in Pennsylvania. Source: PA DEP Open Data Portal See page 35 of the DEP’s Data Dictionary for definitions of these terms
Unfortunately, just 26% of the wells in the DEP’s database are listed as plugged. Even worse, there are thousands more conventional wells in the state that are not in the Pennsylvania DEP’s database due to the poor mapping and regulation in the early days of the oil and gas industry.
Plugging these wells is essential for preventing toxic, climate-disrupting oil and gas from being released into the environment.
Loophole allows leaks to go unchecked
Meaningful climate action in Pennsylvania must address conventional wells. While Governor Wolf has proposed a rule that would reduce emissions released from oil and gas facilities, the rule exempts low-producing wells. As you can imagine, many of the low-producing wells are the older, very leaky, conventional wells.
According to an analysis by Earthworks, the top 10 operators of low-producing wells each made $5 million in revenue in 2019. If these operators are continuing to profit off the state’s resources, the least our state regulators could do is require them to comply with pollution control measures. Learn more about the ruling from Earthworks.
Centuries of fossil fuel development have left deep scars in Pennsylvania. Climate action and plans to manage the decline of this industry must address this historic impact. Anything less is to sacrifice the health of Pennsylvanians and disregard the United State’s re-commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.
The Take Away
Ongoing issues associated with conventional wells have been overshadowed by the explosion of unconventional oil and gas development, or what’s most commonly referred to as “fracking.” But their impact is significant. In Pennsylvania, there are 185,000 conventional wells on record and just 26% of those are plugged, meaning that the remainder are leaking significant amounts of the potent greenhouse gas methane. In order to reach climate goals, leaders on the state and national level will need to act quickly to address unplugged wells.
Paulina Hruskoci contributed data analysis and mapping in this article. She is currently studying Geospatial Information Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. She plans to pursue a career in environmental policy advocacy
References & Where to Learn More
- Repairing the Damage from Orphan Wells and Abandoned Mine Lands. This pair of 2021 reports from Ohio River Valley Institute show how Appalachia can tackle the climate crisis while creating thousands of local jobs.
- New York State Oil & Gas Well Drilling: Patterns Over Time, an April 2021 update from FracTracker.
More notes on data from this article can be found in the Details sections of the interactive maps above.
Topics in This Article:
Join the Conversation
Support Our Work
FracTracker Alliance helps communicate the risks of oil and gas and petrochemical development to advance just energy alternatives that protect public health, natural resources, and the climate.
By contributing to FracTracker, you are helping to make tangible changes, such as decreasing the number of oil and gas wells in the US, protecting the public from toxic and radioactive chemicals, and stopping petrochemical expansion into vulnerable communities.
Your donations help fund the sourcing and analysis of new data so that we can keep you informed and continually update our resources.
Please donate to FracTracker today as a way to advocate for clean water, clean air, and healthy communities.
What You Should Read Next
Testimony On EPA’s Proposed Methane Pollution Standards for the Oil and Gas Industry
Assessment of Rework Permits on Oil Production from Operational Wells Within the 3,200-Foot Public Health Protection Zone
CalGEM Permit Review Q4 2022: Oil Permit Approvals Show Steep Rise Within Protective Buffer Zones
A Contentious Landscape of Pipeline Build-outs in the Eastern US
Major Gas Leak Reveals Risks of Aging Gas Storage Wells in Pennsylvania
Coursing Through Gasland: A Digital Atlas Exploring Natural Gas Development in the Towanda Creek Watershed
Falcon Pipeline Online, Begins Operations Following Violations of Clean Streams Law
Synopsis: Risks to the Greater Columbus Water Supply from Oil and Gas Production
Desalination: The Chemical Industry’s Demand for Water in Texas
Take Action in Support of No New Leases
Carbon Capture and Storage: Developments in the Law of Pore Space in North Dakota
Carbon Capture and Storage: Industry Connections and Community Impacts
Carbon Capture and Storage: Fact or Fiction?
Pipeline Right-of-Ways: Making the Connection between Forest Fragmentation and the Spread of Lyme Disease in Southwestern Pennsylvania
FracTracker Finds Widespread Hydrocarbon Emissions from Active & Idle Oil and Gas Wells and Infrastructure in California
California Regulators Approve More Oil Well Permits Amid a Crisis of Leaking Oil Wells that Should be Plugged
An Insider Take on the Appalachian Hydrogen & CCUS Conference
Does Hydrogen Have a Role in our Energy Future?
Oil and Gas Brine in Ohio
PA Environment Digest Blog: Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Dispose Of Drill Cuttings By ‘Dusting’
Real Talk on Pipelines
2021 Production from Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Wells
Mapping Energy Systems Impacted by the Russia-Ukraine War
Dimock residents working to protect water from a new threat: fracking waste
Implications of a 3,200-foot Setback in California
New Trends in Drilling Permit Approvals Take Shape in CA
Oil and Gas Drilling in California Legislative Districts
New Report: Fracking with “Forever Chemicals” in Colorado
Introducing: FracTracker’s comprehensive new Pennsylvania map!
New Letter from Federal Regulators Regarding how the Falcon has Been Investigated
US Army Corps Muskingum Watershed Plan ignores local concerns of oil and gas effects
Oil and gas companies use a lot of water to extract oil in drought-stricken California
Southeastern Texas Petrochemical Industry Needs 318 Billion Gallons of Water, but the US EPA Says Not So Fast
Chickahominy Pipeline project tries to exploit an apparent regulatory loophole
Map Update on Criminal Charges Facing Mariner East 2 Pipeline
It’s Time to Stop Urban Oil Drilling in Los Angeles
Infrastructure Networks in Texas
California Prisons are Within 2,500’ of Oil and Gas Extraction
New power plant proposal called senseless and wasteful by climate groups
Ongoing Safety Concerns over Shell’s Falcon Pipeline
New Neighborhood Drilling Permits Issued While California Fails to Act on Public Health Rules
The world is watching as bitcoin battle brews in the US
California Oil & Gas Drilling Permits Drop in Response to Decreased Permit Applications to CalGEM
California Denies Well Stimulation Permits
Mapping PFAS “Forever Chemicals” in Oil & Gas Operations
Updated National Energy and Petrochemical Map
Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania Fracking Story Map
Ohio & Fracking Waste: The Case for Better Waste Management
Pennsylvania Conventional Well Map Update
Impacts of 2020 Colonial Pipeline Rupture Continue to Grow
Gas Storage Plan vs. Indigenous Rights in Nova Scotia
Mapping Gathering Lines in Bradford County, Pennsylvania
Trends in fracking waste coming to New York State from Pennsylvania
2021 Pipeline Incidents Update: Safety Record Not Improving
New York State Oil & Gas Well Drilling: Patterns Over Time
Risky Byhalia Connection Pipeline Threatens Tennessee & Mississippi Health, Water Supply
Shell’s Falcon Pipeline Under Investigation for Serious Public Safety Threats
Kern County’s Drafted EIR Will Increase the Burden for Frontline Communities
Pennsylvania’s Waste Disposal Wells – A Tale of Two Datasets
California Oil & Gas Setbacks Recommendations Memo
Oil and Gas Wells on California State Lands
Industrial Impacts in Michigan: A Photo Essay & Story Map
People and Production: Reducing Risk in California Extraction
Documenting emissions from new oil and gas wells in California
Energy Security, International Investment, and Democracy in the US Shale Oil & Gas Industry
FracTracker in the Field: Building a Live Virtual Map
Mapping Gathering Lines in Ohio and West Virginia
The North Dakota Shale Viewer Reimagined: Mapping the Water and Waste Impact
Falcon Pipeline Construction Releases over 250,000 Gallons of Drilling Fluid in Pennsylvania and Ohio
Systematic Racism in Kern County Oil and Gas Permitting Ordinance
Fracking Water Use in Pennsylvania Increases Dramatically
New Yorkers mount resistance against North Brooklyn Pipeline
California, Back in Frack
California Setback Analyses Summary
Air Pollution from Pennsylvania Shale Gas Compressor Stations – REPORT
New York State Oil & Gas Wells – 2020 Update
National Energy and Petrochemical Map
Governor Newsom Must Do More to Address the Cause of Oil Spill Surface Expressions
Oil & Gas Well Permits Issued By Newsom Administration Rival Those Issued Under Gov. Jerry Brown
Pipelines Continue to Catch Fire and Explode
The Hidden Inefficiencies and Environmental Costs of Fracking in Ohio
Fracking in Pennsylvania: Not Worth It
Fracking Threatens Ohio’s Captina Creek Watershed
How State Regulations Hold Us back and What Other Countries are doing about Fracking
New Method for Locating Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells is Tested in New York State
Abandoned Wells in Pennsylvania: We’re Not Doing Enough
The Underlying Politics and Unconventional Well Fundamentals of an Appalachian Storage Hub
Permitting New Oil and Gas Wells Under the Newsom Administration
Mapping the Petrochemical Build-Out Along the Ohio River
Impact of a 2,500′ Oil and Gas Well Setback in California
Production and Location Trends in PA: A Moving Target
The Falcon Public Monitoring Project
Release: The 2019 You Are Here map launches, showing New York’s hurdles to climate leadership
Idle Wells are a Major Risk
Literally Millions of Failing, Abandoned Wells
Wicked Witch of the Waste
The Growing Web of Oil and Gas Pipelines
Getting Rid of All of that Waste – Increasing Use of Oil and Gas Injection Wells in Pennsylvania
A Disturbing Tale of Diminishing Returns in Ohio
Pennsylvania Drilling Trends in 2018
216 Franklin St, Suite 400, Johnstown, PA 15901
Phone: +1 (717) 303-0403 | firstname.lastname@example.org
FracTracker Alliance is a 501(c)3 non-profit: Tax identification number: 80-0844297