Another Early Rhinestreet Well

A few months ago I wrote a series of posts about early unconventional wells that appear to have been omitted from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Act 13 report, contrary to requirements.

Today I stumbled across another early Rhinestreet Shale well. According to Tarr (1980, p. 4), in November 1979, in the the northeastern portion of the Lake Erie shoreline the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (DER), the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the Morgantown Energy Technology Center (METC) “completed the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [COP], 3 DER Presque Isle State Park, Permit #ERI-20846 [now 37-049-20846] in the Devonian Shale interval 117-1247.5′. The well was bottomed at a total depth of 1276 ft in the Middle Devonian Onondaga Limestone. The well flowed 160 Mcfpd natural from the open hole. Reservoir pressure was 170# psig after being shut-in 33 days. Gas production was obtained from the interval 945-1040 ft in the Upper Devonian Rhinestreet Shale.” In other words, this well qualifies an unconventional gas well under Act 13.

As of 1994, ERI-20846 was one of two gas wells in Presque Isle State Park, then known as the “Marina” well. According to a DER report, the Marina well was completed on October 10, 1979, at a depth of 1,276 feet. It was estimated to heat several buildings (marina, manager’s home, and administration building) for 30 to 40 years. The DER provided $23,000 towards the $200,000 project. This well last reported production in 2006. It was not listed in the DEP’s Act 13 report of spud unconventional gas wells.

The same report noted that the second well — the Beach #7 — was drilled in 1910 by the City of Erie at a depth of 3,572 feet. It was used to run machinery at waterworks park and later abandoned in the 1920s. However, the well was apparently not plugged.

In 1970, a black, foul-smelling surface discharge was reported in the Beach 7 well area. The discharge resulted in the release of hydrogen sulfide gas into the air and other hazardous substances into the soil and shallow ground water near the well. As the odors continued, DER uncovered the pavement overlying the discharge in 1979, and identified the well as the source of the discharge. The discharge was found to be emanating from a deep underground formation called the Bass Island formation.

From 1964 to 1971, over one-billion, ninety-million gallons of wood pulping wastes were injected into the Bass Island formation by the Hammermill Paper Company at wells located approximately four miles to the east of the Presque Isle State Park 7 well. An explanation is that the injected wood pulping wastes flowed along the Bass Island formation and surfaced at the Beach 7 well. [The] Beach 7 well was shut off and plugged in April 15, 1980 to 900 feet of the surface. At that time a substantial amount of gas was found near the surface that did have potential for use.

In September 1983, the Beach 7 well was placed on EPA’s National Priorities List. The National Priorities List consists of hazardous sites across the country where cleanup need’s are so serious as to warrant designation as a Superfund site. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the “Superfund,” was passed by Congress in 1980. The Act addresses the nationwide problem of uncontrolled hazardous sites.

In 1992, EPA delisted the well from the National Priorities List. Restoration work was done on the site.

So, according to this report, wastes injected into a disposal well four miles away traveled from the Bass Island Formation, (which is of Upper Silurian age, and thus, much older and stratigraphically lower than the Marcellus Formation), and a depth of 3,500+ feet, through numerous intervening formations, before finally migrating up the Beach #7 well, with a bottom depth of ~1300 feet. In other words, here is at least one example that suggests fracking fluids may be able to travel laterally and vertically without much difficulty!

How Many Unconventional Wells Not Reported?

In a series of previous posts, I identified early Marcellus shale completions by various operators in Erie and Washington Counties, early Rhinestreet shale completions by Wainoco Oil and Gas Company (now HollyFrontier Corporation) in Crawford County and early Rhinestreet shale completions by Great Lakes Energy Partners (now Range Resources) in Crawford County.

Although these wells appear to meet the definition of an unconventional well under Act 13, CHAPTER 23 § 2302, as of April 2, 2012, none were reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission as liable for impact fees, an apparent violation of Act 13.

In an effort to begin documenting these missing “legacy” wells in a more systematic and structured fashion I have started a small spreadsheet. To date, I have identified more than 200 legacy wells that likely meet Act 13’s definition of an unconventional well, all drilled prior to Range Resource’s “discovery” of the Marcellus shale in 2003-2005. If you are interested, I have posted these to a Google Spreadsheet.

Assuming the wells in question were vertical and not horizontal, these numbers, if correct, imply about $1.7 million in under-reported impact fees. If I were an elected official in one of the affected counties or municipalities (e.g., Crawford, Erie), this is something I would probably want to look into a bit more closely.