Summer Lee Visits Abandoned Well in Murrysville with PA DEP, Highlighting Infrastructure Law Funding and her Bipartisan Abandoned Wells Legislation 

For Immediate Release 

Emilia Rowland, Emilia.Rowland@mail.house.gov

Summer Lee Visits Abandoned Well in Murrysville with PA DEP, Highlighting Infrastructure Law Funding and her Bipartisan Abandoned Wells Legislation 

Lee’s bill was passed through the Science, Space, and Technology Committee on a unanimous, bipartisan basis and awaits a vote by the full House 

Pittsburgh, PA — Today, Congresswoman  Summer Lee (PA-12) and leaders from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) toured an abandoned well site in Murrysville that is poised to receive funding for remediation from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. During the visit, Lee discussed her work in Congress and in partnership with the Shapiro administration to deliver federal investments that protect Western Pennsylvanians’ health, property, and tax dollars from legacy pollution. This comes after Rep. Lee introduced and passed the Bipartisan Abandoned Well Remediation Research and Development Act through the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee with a unanimous, bipartisan vote. 

“Whether we’re talking about childhood asthma from soot pollution in the Mon Valley or folks exposed to carcinogens and methane leakage from abandoned oil and gas wells in Westmoreland County, Western Pennsylvanians deserve better. Our communities that have been left behind throughout Western PA simply cannot afford another year, or another decade of toxic methane from abandoned oil and gas wells leaking into our air and water–yet oil and gas companies have abandoned wells at a faster pace than we’re able to plug or even identify them. On top of the harm to the health of our loved ones, abandoned wells also mean lower property values and land productivity, with one study in Pennsylvania showing a 50% drop-off in building development in areas with high concentrations of orphaned and abandoned wells” said Rep. Summer Lee (PA-12). “Working with partners at every level of government, we’ve taken critical action to deliver enough federal dollars to plug every orphaned well identified by the PA Department of Environmental Protection — but estimates suggest that there are approximately 350,000 additional wells that haven’t been documented. That’s why I introduced the  Bipartisan Abandoned Wells Remediation, Research, and Development Act to create an entire department at the US Department of energy to improve the resources available in identifying and remediating orphaned and abandoned wells. My bill has already passed committee on a unanimous, bipartisan vote. — now it’s time for the full House to pass it and sign it into law.”

Event Photos

Background: 

The problem facing Western Pennsylvanians: 

  • Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection says there are tens of thousands of abandoned gas wells and oil wells documented across the state — and there may be 13 times that many for which there are no records.
  • Federal money helped Pennsylvania plug 139 abandoned oil and gas wells last year. That’s more than in the eight years before that. Despite the state awarding more than $23 million in contracts to plug those wells in 2023, the number of abandoned wells continues to grow.
  • DEP estimates that there are 27,000 abandoned wells for which they have locations to plug. They estimate an approximately 350,000 additional undocumented abandoned wells exist all across Pennsylvania. 
  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that methane emissions from over 2 million inactive, unplugged wells, of which documented orphan wells are a subset, range from a CO2 equivalent of 7-20 million metric tons per year (approximately the emissions of 2 to 5 million cars).
  • Methane emissions from oil and gas wells – some of which date back as early as the 1850s including orphan wells, remains a significant driver of short-term climate change. [EDF] At least 25% of today’s warming is driven by methane emissions from human activities.
  • EDF has also calculated that approximately 14 million Americans live within a mile of a documented orphan well, which has no solvent owner of record, can leak oil, gas and other toxic chemicals into our air and water.
  • In addition to methane, abandoned wells release carcinogens and other toxic air contaminants spewing from millions of wells that are no longer even operating. In a study in the journal ACS Omega, researchers have reported the discovery of harmful cancer-causing benzene and other toxic gases leaking from 48 abandoned wells in Western Pennsylvania
  • Abandoned wells also lower property values and land productivity, with one study in Pennsylvania showing a 50% drop-off in building development in areas with high orphan well concentration.
  • The health and economic impact of abandoned wells fall disproportionately on low income and minority communities – impacting Black and brown communities at twice the rate

Solutions Congresswoman Lee is working to deliver:

Throughout her first term in office Lee has been pushing to expedite federal funding under the Infrastructure and Jobs Act to go to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s work plugging abandoned wells in Western PA. This map shows a total of 120,000 documented orphan wells across 30 states that are eligible for closure funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. 

In July, Rep. Lee introduced the Bipartisan Abandoned Well Remediation Research and Development Act with Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK-12) to address the impact of methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells. 

Her bill passed through the Committee on Science, Space and Technology in September on a bipartisan unanimous basis. It now awaits  a vote by the full House.  

  • Lee’s bill addresses challenges around the difficulty of the plugging and remediation process – from locating undocumented wells, minimal understanding of methane emission rates, and cost barriers. Lee’s bill will amend the Energy Act of 2005 to create an abandoned wells research, development, and demonstration program at the Department of Energy (DOE) with respect to abandoned wells. It directs the Secretary of DOE to create and carry out this program to focus on a range of key technology areas to better identify abandoned wells, understand methane emission rates, low carbon lightweight cement, technology to improve remote plugging, ways to repurpose wells for geothermal power and technology to understand impacts of abandoned wells on groundwater.
  • Congresswoman Lee said, “Where I grew up in Braddock, our air is already so dirty that we have some of the highest rates of pollution causing childhood asthma and respiratory illnesses in this country. Folks in communities left behind like Western PA simply cannot afford toxic methane from abandoned oil and gas wells leaking into our air and water–yet oil and gas companies are abandoning wells far, far faster than we’re able to plug or even identify them. On top of the harm to the health of our loved ones, abandoned wells, which just so happen to impact Black and brown communities at twice the rate, also mean lower property values and land productivity, with one study in Pennsylvania showing a 50% drop-off in building development in areas with high concentrations of abandoned wells. I’m proud to introduce the ‘Bipartisan Abandoned Well R&D Act’ to protect our communities from abandoned oil and gas wells by creating a new research, development, and demonstration program at the Department of Energy.”

In December, Rep. Lee announced $44,457,220 in federal funding to support industry efforts to cut methane emissions from wells and support environmental restoration of well sites

  • Rep. Lee said “I’m so proud to deliver over $44M in funding to cut methane emissions in my district. In regions like Western Pennsylvania, where the legacy of oil and gas extraction is deeply felt, this investment is not just about reducing emissions; it’s about justice and health for our communities. This funding will accelerate efforts to measure, monitor, and mitigate methane from nonfederal wells, which is crucial for protecting both the environment and public health. As we’ve seen in our communities, unchecked methane emissions contribute to climate change and pose serious health risks, especially in marginalized areas. This is a big step towards correcting historical neglect and ensuring a cleaner, healthier future for all.”
  • Ryan Peay, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Resource Sustainability in DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management said, “Investing in projects and programs that significantly reduce methane emissions is an important priority to slow the harmful effects of climate change. The grants awarded today facilitate critical partnerships between states and the oil and gas sector, addressing a key source of these emissions while generating substantial climate, health, and economic benefits for local communities nationwide.”

Resources:


Since taking office in January, Lee, who serves on the House Oversight Committee and Space, Science and Technology Committee, has delivered historic levels of federal investment totaling over $1 Billion brought back to Western PA, including over $200 million for infrastructure, over $50 million for affordable transit, and over $500 million to keep clean energy manufacturing at home in Pennsylvania. These investments will help improve Western Pennsylvania’s infrastructure and transit, ensure cleaner air and drinking water, lower housing costs, fund research institutions, fuel clean manufacturing, fund STEM innovation and entrepreneurship, boost workforce development, and create thousands of good paying union jobs.  Lee and her team have also delivered casework and constituent services to over 1,950 constituents with issues ranging from helping our seniors and disabled community access Medicare and social security to helping folks secure housing and helping families with immigration support and passports.

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