PENINSULA, Ohio – The Cuyahoga Valley National Park received $1 million to clean up three “orphan wells” within park boundaries.
The United States National Park Service received $9.8 million as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act to remediate and rehabilitate 277 high-priority abandoned oil and gas well sites in seven national parks.
Obtaining financing to close wells is competitive. Sixty-five Ohio counties are home to abandoned wells that pose a threat to human health, climate, wildlife and natural resources, said CVNP environmental protection specialist Veronica Dickerson, who has worked to identify the wells in the park.
Orphan wells typically go unclaimed by a company or agency, forcing the federal government to step in and pay for the cleanup, she said.
Lacking maintenance and monitoring, the wells are in various states of deterioration, with many contaminants releasing into the soil, groundwater and air, Dickerson said.
The CVNP has 88 wells, some of which are still active, she said. For operational wells, the park and the well owners have a reciprocal relationship to ensure the wells are operating efficiently.
The park has already closed 55 abandoned wells and intends to close them all eventually, she said.
Dickerson said she was lucky to be part of the environmental renewal trend, helping to reclaim the land for future generations.
“Everything will go back to how it should be,” she said. “There will be no evidence that there ever were oil and gas wells in this national park.”
Remediating the wells is part of CVNP’s history of redemption and renewal, said Pamela Barnes, the park’s community engagement manager.
Unlike most National Parks Service parks, CVNP is urban, located between Akron and Cleveland, and required remediation work at other sites within its borders, Barnes said. The park has also worked to help restore the health of the Cuyahoga River.
But identifying abandoned wells and pinpointing their true condition can be an arduous and time-consuming process, Dickerson said.
Indeed, many sites have reservoirs and components underground, and some wells have been improperly capped, she said.
Working with a petroleum engineer and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Dickerson walked CVNP sites, took readings and samples, and examined wells to understand their condition, she said.
Many wells were drilled before environmental regulations were in place, she said. But if a site has an identified owner, that entity is responsible for cleanup.
“We had an idea of who the ‘dirty players’ were, so to speak, and we kind of targeted them first,” she said.
Abandoned sites can sometimes be identified by the array of old equipment left behind: pump jacks, generators, meters and oil and brine tanks, she said.
With current funding, CVNP plans to shut down three wells, likely drilled between 1950 and 1960, she said.
The wells are high priority and one of them has reservoirs that are actively leaking methane.
“We have a lot of concerns with anything actively leaking,” she said.
The site is also home to a large brine tank so old the top is rusty, she said, which can be a big problem in a national park.
“There’s always this concern that this curious person will climb up there, and there’s a risk that they’ll puncture the reservoir and fall in,” Dickerson said.
Remediation should begin as soon as the money is disbursed and a rehabilitation contractor is chosen, she said. The aim is to have much of the work done by the end of the year.