Abandoned oil and gas wells are making Pennsylvanians sick. Rep. Summer Lee has a fix

Congresswoman Summer Lee passes bill to help plug Pennsylvania's abandoned gas wells

Rep. Summer Lee, D-Pa., arrives for Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro's Inauguration, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Sean Kitchen

April 30, 2024

The US House passed Congresswoman Summer Lee’s bipartisan bill to tackle abandoned oil and gas wells. Pennsylvania leads the country in abandoned gas wells over 400,000 abandoned wells.

A bipartisan bill led by Congresswoman Summer Lee (D-Allegheny) directing the US Department of Energy to establish a research, development and demonstration program on abandoned oil gas wells passed the US House on Tuesday by a 333 to 75 vote.

Pennsylvania has the most abandoned oil and gas wells in the country with 27,000 documented abandoned wells, and an additional 350,000 wells still need to be identified. 

Lee shared her story about visiting Pamela and Ivan Schrank’s home in Westmoreland County after they recently discovered an abandoned well on their property during debate prior to the bill’s passage. 

“During my visit, Pamela described how she got dizzy and almost fainted while gardening in her backyard after being exposed to a pungent odor she recognized as gas,” Lee said. 

“Fortunately, she and her husband Ivan caught the leakage in time to reach out to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to begin the process of plugging the well and preventing permanent harm to their family’s health and the value of their property.”

Last December, Lee helped secure more than $44 million in federal funds from President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act to monitor abandoned wells and mitigate their emissions. The Schrank family is set to receive funding from Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to plug the abandoned well on their property. 

“I discovered the abandoned well when one day, I got so dizzy I almost fainted,” Pamela Schrank said in a statement. 

“I’m glad the House is passing Congresswoman Lee’s bill to provide federal resources to better identify and plug abandoned wells like the one on my property to protect families like mine against exposure to dangerous toxins and lower property value.”

Plugging abandoned oil and gas wells are important in the fight against climate change because of the methane that leaks out of them. Methane is a significant driver of short-term climate change and a quarter of today’s warming is attributed to human related methane emissions. 

“Until Congress takes action to invest in the identification and remediation of abandoned wells…, tens of thousands of people in my district and across Pennsylvania will continue to be exposed to toxins in their air and water, explosive gasses, and lower property values,” Lee said during debate. 


  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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