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Environment & Energy

Powdermill Nature Preserve Assembles List of Marcellus Shale Well Sites

The Powdermill Nature Reserve, a research center of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, has completed a list of all Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania. The list consists of all drilling sites in the state that have been permitted, drilled, are producing, abandoned, expired, shut-in (flow of gas has been stopped), or plugged (sealed with cement and/or mud).

Although the state regulates the drilling, John Wenzel, Director for the Center of Biodiversity and Ecosystems at Powdermill, said creating the list coincides with their line of work.

"The reason that we started it was because, as part of our regular research about the health of our natural environment around us, we wanted to address issues that have to do with this large industrial effort that's popping up all across rural sections of Pennsylvania," Wenzel said.

Since 2000, the state has permitted 9,848 wells. 6,391 of those are drilled and/or are currently producing. In addition, there are 2,457 permitted sites that could be drilled, and 349 wells that have been abandoned, plugged, declared inactive, shut-in, or are marked with an "unknown" status.

In compiling the list, six different sets of data were consulted: lists for permits, wells drilled, production, waste, compliance, and the Public Utility Commission's list of wells. Wenzel said they found several irregularities.

"When looking up what the number of wells is, we found that many of the records are not consistent internally. You have a certain number of permits, and a certain number of wells drilled, and these should be similar to each other, but we found that they were not," Wenzel said.

Wenzel said the list will never be finished with more permits being issued all the time, but steps have already been taken to prevent errors in the future. "What we've done recently, which is nearly as important as the list itself, is to document how we went about composing it, what our decisions were, why we have these numbers that we have," Wenzel said.

The list has been organized in such a way that it can be easily searched for quick answers to questions regarding the number of wells in any given town, how many are producing, or the number that have been plugged. At the present time, the list is only accessible by researchers or government officials, but by the end of June the list will be available to the public through a link on the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's website.