July 28, 2014

Medina
Thunderstorms
63°F

Chatham tapped for well meeting

About 270,000 oil and natural gas wells have been drilled in Ohio since the time of the Civil War.

The majority has long since been exhausted, but an unknown number remain uncapped — including many in Medina County.

Since 1977, the Orphan Well Program operated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has sealed off approximately 1,000 wells to prevent possible contamination of groundwater or venting of natural gas into the air.

The ongoing job of plugging such wells will be the subject of a meeting at 3 p.m. Monday at the Medina County Park District’s Letha House West, Chatham Township, where ODNR and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials will discuss their efforts.

ODNR spokesman Mark Bruce termed the effort “one of the most tangible things we can do to keep groundwater safe.”

The educational event will include an explanation of how the Orphan Well Program works, plus a visit to an active well near Letha House that is in the process of being plugged.

“There are a lot of wells in Lorain and Medina counties,” Bruce said. “That’s why we’re holding the meeting in this area.”

Statewide, about 400 wells are being investigated, including performing title searches to try to determine who owns them.

“That is what makes them orphan wells, when no owner can be identified,” Bruce said.

They are everywhere, not just beneath open farm fields or forested areas.

“One was found beneath a building in downtown Cleveland as Cleveland State University was tearing down a building,” Bruce said.

Another was located under a concrete driveway being dug at a Rocky River home.

More than half of Ohio’s wells were drilled between the 1920s and 1950s before the state regulated them.

“For decades, there were no rules in place,” Bruce said. “Many wells had dirt thrown over them and were forgotten about. That’s why we have to take care of them now.”

Many were drilled by now-defunct oil or gas companies that put up no bonds to cover drilling and capping costs, as well as potential damage, or firms whose bonds have long since been revoked, Bruce said.

“We now have laws in place that makes the driller responsible for plugging wells,” Bruce said.

Orphan wells are typically sealed shut by a combination of excavation work, adding new casings at the top of wells, and inserting cement into the well bore to close it off. They generally range in depth from several hundred feet to between 4,000 to 6,000 feet.

A well in Lorain County, in North Ridgeville’s Meadow Lakes housing subdivision, that also is being capped, is estimated to be 2,500 feet deep,” Bruce said.

“The developer found it and informed us, and it qualified for the program,” Bruce said. “The problem is that you can’t build new homes around an old orphan well. Once we get it plugged, they can continue with construction.”

Letha House Park West is at 5800 Richman Road, Chatham Township. To learn more about Monday’s event, call the Ohio Department of Natural Resources at (614) 265-6565.

Contact reporter Steve Fogarty at (440) 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.