The Abandoned and Orphaned Wells of the Kanawha State Forest

From our partners at West Virginia Rivers Coalition

During the October Legislative interims, the WV Surface Owners’ Rights Organization (WVSORO), along with the WV Rivers Coalition and the WV Environmental Council, organized an educational hike in the Kanawha State Forest near the state’s capitol. Abandoned oil and gas infrastructure is prolific throughout the state. Dave McMahon, representing WVSORO, guided participants to explore three distinct well sites. 

Shortly after the hike began, they encountered an orphaned well leaking methane gas, which triggered the methane monitoring device to light up like a jack-o-lantern. Check out the picture, right, of the Methane “Sniffer” giving an off-the-scale methane reading. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change when released into the atmosphere.

Moving down Polly Hollow trail, hikers saw a successfully plugged well and an operational one nearby. These juxtaposed examples emphasized the importance of responsible well management and the need to regulate methane emissions.

As the group continued along the trail, they passed a drip, smelling the distinct odor of gas in the air. This sensory experience underlined the very real dangers posed by gas leaks. A short distance further, an old orphaned well showcases a more unusual phenomenon. When it rains, passersby can actually see gas bubbling out of the well. That well is pictured below.

This eerie hike in our state’s public lands was a powerful reminder of the invisible threats that lie beneath the surface. It’s critical that we prevent oil and gas companies from walking away from leaking wells and enact strong regulations like the Orphan Well Prevention Act. We need strong methane regulations, more state inspectors, and a commitment to plug these old wells to reduce methane leaks.

West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization is reporting the leaks. If you suspect an abandoned and leaking oil and gas well, report it to the WVDEP Spill line at 1-800-642-3074.

See the latest Public Lands newsletter here and stay up-to-date by subscribing to their newsletter here.

Additional reading: A recent article from Mountain State Spotlight by Sarah Elbeshbishi covers West Virginia’s challenge with abandoned oil and gas wells, including Cindy Dotson’s concerns about one on her property. Limited federal funding doesn’t cover all abandoned wells, especially those not documented, highlighting widespread issues and environmental risks due to incomplete support.

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