The hillsides that surround Oil Creek have a long history of oil exploration. The first commercial oil well was drilled by
Colonel Edwin Drake in 1859 at the northern end of the park. But it was not until 1956 that the State began permitting new drilling in coal areas and not until 1963 that all new drilling required a permit. The Oil and Gas Act of 1984 required well operators to register all known oil and gas wells, which had not been registered under previous law. A 1992 amendment to the Oil and Gas Act allows DEP to designate an abandoned well, with no identifiable owner/operator in the recent past and from which no economic benefit was earned after April 18, 1979, as an “orphan well”. Orphan well status, when approved by DEP, exempts the landowner or leaseholder from the obligation to plug such wells.
In the period before regulation, many wells were abandoned without proper plugging and there are few records of their exact location.
From 1860 until 1984 thousands of well were drilled on what is now park land. The locations of those wells are mostly unknown. Most of wells drilled between 1859 and the 1960s were abandoned when the oil ran out and have not been properly plugging. These well are an environmental problem and physical hazard. The well bore allows substances from normally separate layers to combine. Gas comes to the surface or mixes with the water table. Oil comes to the surface and flows on the ground or into nearby streams and eventually into Oil Creek. Surface water runs into the well and that water becomes acidified from deep rock formations and contaminates the water table. Wells collapse inward and produce large open holes at the surface which are a hazard to hikers and hunters. Over the years many wells have erupted spilling oil and acid into Oil Creek and the smaller runs that feed it.
To alleviate these problems, Members of Venango PA Senior Environmental Corp (VPASEC) work to locate abandoned oil and gas wells in the park. This project which began in 2004 has resulted in finding over 950 wells in the Park so far. Wells located by VPASEC are documented (GPS location and photographed) and marked with a tag and flagging tape. The well location information is then given to DEP so that they can inspect the well and place it on the list of wells to be plugged. Hikers and hunters in the park will see yellow posts and pink flagging as indicators of abandoned wells.
The Park does not own the mineral rights to any of the Park property and therefore does not benefit from the royalties from gas or oil wells in the park. The location and plugging of abandoned wells is important because it preserve water quality and prevents physical injury to park users. Hundreds of wells have been plugged in the park as a result of this program.
Abandoned well and storage tank.
Well spouting acid water. Well was later plugged by DEP.
An abandoned well leaking oil into Oil Creek
A collapsed well opening. - A physical hazard.