Unregulated Natural Gas Wells: Why They are so Dangerous

Unregulated Natural Gas Wells: Why They are so Dangerous

Many more Americans than previously estimated are living near very old natural gas storage wells. Some of them are more than a century old and are not designed to prevent leaks. Researchers were able to estimate that 53,000 people and 20,000 homes in only six states are near natural gas wells, with their furthest distance being 650 feet from a well. These wells are also not designed to hold natural gas, leading to people who live in the area being in danger, which will continue to be the case until the people move or the gas storage is removed or replaced.

These wells should not be underground holding natural gas, a substance they were never designed to hold. They are also too close to people, and it is likely that the old wells could leak, leading to people being exposed to carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde. Researchers examined people who live near wells to figure out how many people were in danger of being exposed to harmful leaks and explosions. They looked at residents in six states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan, New York, and California. Around 80 percent of U.S. gas storage field wells were made before 1970 and were modified to hold natural gas, which is dangerous and can lead to many problems.

The older wells have only one pipe for injections and withdrawals. This is bad for natural gas storage because a blow-out prevention system is needed to store gas. When storing gas, high pressure injections are used to add the gas to the wells and when they fail, there can be horrible consequences. A gas well near Los Angeles exploded and 100,000 metric tons of methane was released into the air. The greenhouse gas is able to mix with other substances to create a harmful mix that causes respiratory problems and headaches. Eight thousand people had to relocate for months, and kids had to temporarily go to different schools. There were also over 700 reports of headaches, nosebleeds, and other illnesses. The well that ruptured was built in the 1950s and had only one pipe and no safety valves.

The old wells are very problematic for Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia because they are concentrated in these four states, and regulations for the gas wells are not often enforced. People who live near these operations also have to put up with poor health. This includes mothers living near gas development sites having a higher chance of having children with congenital heart defects.

There is currently no information on which gas wells are active and there is no way to ensure companies are complying with safety measures. Setback rules are also not enforced, which lets operators get close to people’s homes. Setbacks can be up to 500 feet in Pennsylvania, but companies violate this rule. Companies are also able to get written consent from homeowners, and once they have consent, they can put oil wells anywhere they want. It is very easy to get homeowners to sign over their consent because they do not know what they are signing. Companies find these loopholes to operate where they want, and end up making people sick.

If you live near an oil well and you or a family member is sick because of it, you may be entitled to compensation. Call our firm at 412-471-3980 or fill out our contact form to learn your options and figure out your next steps.

Susan Abram, “The Gas Field Next Door — And Its Dangers To Human Health” The National Memo (August 18, 2019). [Link]

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