Due to the long history of oil and gas drilling activities in Blackford County dating to the late1880s, Blackford County Concerned Citizens is worried about the potential health impacts of leakages from abandoned oil and gas wells. Typically abandoned wells are plugged with cement and cast-iron, but this has not always been the industry standard – in the past “brush plugs” using foliage or tree stumps shoved down the well were common. Even if the plugging was done correctly, industry experts put the average lifetime of a cement plug at about 30 years. As these improperly plugged wells can act as conduits of groundwater pollutants, this is a potential health concern given the high density of abandoned oil/gas wells in the county and their close proximity to drinking water wells. The state has records of more than 1400 oil/gas wells in Blackford County.
The impact that an abandoned well can have on groundwater will depend on its original use, local geology and hydraulic characteristic of subsurface fluids, among other factors.The most commonly encountered contaminants from abandoned oil and gas wells are brines – fluids with elevated levels of salts – and methane gas. Other pollutants in drinking water that have been linked to abandoned oil and gas wells include:
- Contaminants that can affect the appearance, smell and taste of your well water such as
- Elevated levels of constituents of brines such as chloride, iodide, bromide, sulfate, sodium, potassium and total dissolved solids that could make your water taste salty, deposit large amount of scales, or cause it to be corrosive, on fixtures
- Hydrogen Sulfide – characterized by a rotten egg odor
- Oil and grease – components in oil such as PAHs are toxic at very low concentrations, even as low as 1 ppb
- Contaminants with well documented health effects, including cancer, such as
- Elevated levels of metals including Radium, Arsenic and Mercury
- Organic compounds, such as PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and BTEX(benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes)
If you suspect that you might have an improperly plugged oil or gas well on your property, please contact the Orphaned and Abandon Wells Program at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at (317)232-4055. The Orphaned and Abandoned Sites Program reviews abandoned well sites for inclusion in a statewide list of sites qualifying for state closure action. The program manages projects for well closure and site remediation work on improperly abandoned oil and gas production facilities. Funding for the program is provided through annual well fees paid by Indiana operators, civil penalty assessments and forfeited bonds.