Edwin Drake at the site of the Titusville well circa 1866. (Photo from the Drake Well Museum, PHMC , or Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission). Titusville, PA
Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
If Pennsylvania’s school kids know one thing about the commonwealth’s long relationship with the fossil fuel industry, it’s that it’s been a story of boom and bust.
From oil to natural gas, wildcatters chased the next big fortune, leaving a scarred landscape and abandoned wells in their wake when the wells ran dry.
According to official estimates, Pennsylvania could be home to as many as a half-million of these so-called “orphaned wells,” which lower property values and pose a threat to groundwater supplies.
On Tuesday, the commonwealth got what advocates are calling a “down payment” on tackling that problem, with the announcement that Pennsylvania is line to receive $104 million from the new federal infrastructure law to clean up and cap these abandoned wells.
“Addressing Pennsylvania’s orphaned and abandoned gas and oil wells will not only support our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it will create a cleaner local ecosystem at each well site and energize the economy of our entire commonwealth,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement.
The money is part of a $1.15 billion allocation that will be used to clean up inactive wells on federal land, the U.S. Interior Department announced on Tuesday.
The Interior Department is expected to dole out more than $3 billion more in environmental funding to the states as a part of the law.
That means the new round of funding represents a seismic leap for Pennsylvania, where the Department of Environmental Protection typically received less than $1 million a year to plug these abandoned wells, Adam Peltz, a senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the Capital-Star.
“This is a great start. This is a lot of money,” Peltz said. “More money is coming. But now DEP needs to ramp up, and industry needs to ramp up to get it done. It’s a roll-up one sleeve moment.”
The state received an initial payment of $25 million on Tuesday, and is second only to Texas, in the amount of money it’s set to receive from the federal government, the Wolf administration said.
The money mainly will be used to clean up the state’s legacy wells, or those dug between 1850 and 1950, the era before Pennsylvania began regulating oil and gas exploration, Peltz told the Capital-Star.
“I would be shocked if there are any [Marcellus] shale wells in this population,” Peltz said, referring to the state’s most recent fossil fuels boom industry. “… This should all be pretty much conventional wells. This is a legacy problem. But there are reasons to concerned about the active well population, which is about 110,000 wells, and what is being done about them to make sure they aren’t orphaned too.”
The pollution from those aged mines “is one of the greatest environmental issues facing the Commonwealth, and this federal funding through [Biden’s] infrastructure package will go a long way towards addressing some of the most chronically polluted sites,” David Masur, the executive director of the advocacy group, PennEnvironment, told the Capital-Star.
“With hundreds of thousands of acres of abandoned minelands that must be remediated and reclaimed, and legacy pollution from mining as one of the greatest sources of water pollution in Pennsylvania, having the funding to tackle the pollution that scars the Keystone state from mining’s legacy is critical,” Masur said.
In a statement, Kelsey Krepps, a senior campaign representative with The Sierra Club, also welcomed the news, but said the state needed to address its bonding structure so that “oil and gas companies are paying for their own well plugging and enforcement of closure requirements to assure owners are not just leaving leaking wells behind at taxpayer expense.
“Without bonding reform, we’ll continue to see wells sit unplugged and added to our backlogs,” Krepps said. “With our state rule-making petitions, we’re seeking to address this issue now and into the future and the Pennsylvania DEP should work to produce reports on those petitions in a timely manner to fully address this critical state issue.”
The top-flight Democratic and Republican candidates in this year’s fight for the governor’s office have raised at least $22.5 million for the coming campaign — a total will only increase in the coming months as war chests grow and outside groups step in, Stephen Caruso reports.
In testimony before a state Senate panel on Tuesday, Pennsylvania educators detailed the staffing shortage they’re facing during the pandemic, calling it unsustainable, and urged legislative relief, Marley Parish reports.
From Democracy Reporter Kira Lerner, here’s a look, state by state, at all of the fake electors for former President Donald Trump. The Pennsylvania Republicans include GOP gubernatorial hopefuls Lou Barletta and Charlie Gerow, along with other prominent activists.
The future is electric: But can Pennsylvania switch gears? Our partners at City & State Pa. take up the question.
The Philadelphia Board of Education is moving to narrow the pool of candidates angling to replace outgoing Superintendent William Hite, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.
On our Commentary Page this morning: From a University of Florida scholar, it’s everything you need to know about Chinese Lunar New Year, which is being celebrated by billions of people worldwide this week. Last week’s bridge collapse in Pittsburgh underscores the need to move on infrastructure jobs, Joseph Cullen, of the Ohio River Valley Institute, writes. And opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz explains how some recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings could provide a legal basis for trashing the filibuster.
Philadelphia will pay an additional $125,000 to settle a claim about inhumane jail conditions; a larger lawsuit is ongoing, the Inquirer reports.
Some $25.3 million in federal infrastructure money has been set aside to replace Pittsburgh’s collapsed Fern Hollow Bridge, the Tribune-Review reports.
PennLive previews this morning’s Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney.
State Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, will face a primary from a challenger backed by groups who are convinced the Pa. GOP didn’t do enough to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania, LancasterOnline reports.
York City Council will seek legal advice on Mayor Mike Helfrich’s oath of office, the York Daily Record reports. There are questions over whether he missed a deadline.
A retired educator is the first Black member of Bethlehem City Council, the Morning Call reports.
City officials in Wilkes-Barre are distributing KN95 masks to senior citizens and low-income city residents, the Citizens’ Voice reports.
State Rep. Mike Driscoll, D-Philadelphia, has been tapped to fill a vacant spot on Philadelphia City Council, WHYY-FM reports.
WHYY-FM also crunches the fundraising numbers in the race for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania (via WITF-FM).
USA Today’s Pennsylvania Capital Bureau looks at the 7 things that county governments need from the state — and how likely they are to get them.
State consumer advocates are investigating the fairness of popular buy now, pay later plans, Stateline.org reports.
Democratic divisions over Build Back Better are still ‘festering,’ Roll Call reports.
Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:
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What Goes On
It’s Groundhog Day … as if you could tell the difference.
10:30 a.m., State College: House Democratic Policy Committee
What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
6 p.m.: Reception for Washington County Commissioner Nick Sherman. Admission runs $250 to $5,000.
Gov. Tom Wolf, joined by House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, and Rep. Matt Bradford, of Montgomery County, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, holds a 1:30 p.m. newser at the Capitol Media Center to announce plans for spending $1.7 million in pandemic relief funds to help workers and businesses bounce back.
Here’s one from Sports Team that could not be more English if it was eating a plate of fish and chips while watching the FA Cup Final. It’s the ‘Here’s the Thing.’ Somewhere, Damon Albarn, of Blur, is looking up in recognition.
Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
Toronto’s Mitch Marner notched four points as the Maple Leafs demolished the New Jersey Devils 7-1 on the road at the Prudential Center for their fifth, straight win.
And now you’re up to date.
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