Section 319
Plugged Gas Wells Improve Water Quality
W3terbodv ImDrOVed
                                       f'ows through a part of northwestern Pennsylvania
                             that has been the site of oil and gas drilling since the early
1900s. Abandoned oil and gas wells have been degrading streams  in this part of the state
for the past 50 years. Artesian flows with high acid concentrations  lower the streams' pH
to below tolerable levels for many aquatic organisms. The Pennsylvania Department of
Environmental Protection (PADEP) added Step Run to the state's 2006 Clean Water Act  sec-
tion 303(d) list of impaired waters due to low pH. After two local organizations partnered
to plug four abandoned wells in the Step Run watershed, the pH increased to acceptable
levels, and Pennsylvania removed one segment of Step Run from its 2008 303(d) list.
                                           Project Highlights
Step Run is a first-order stream in northern Clarion
County that flows into Licking Creek and then sev-
eral larger streams before eventually emptying into
the Clarion River. In 2006 PADEP added 3.4 miles
of Step Run's mainstem to the state's 303(d) list for
failing to support its aquatic life designated use due
to acidity. The source of acidity was groundwater
flowing up (an artesian flow) through abandoned oil
and gas wells and reaching the land surface.

PADEP estimates that as many as 200 abandoned
oil  and gas wells remain in Clarion County. Stream
surveys completed  in 2003 in the Licking Creek
watershed found pH as low as 3.5. A stream needs
to have a pH higher than 6.0 to support aquatic life.
A biological stream  survey conducted by PADEP
in April 2004 noted that the stream had a sterile
appearance, and that there was "low EPT diversity,
abundance, no mayflies, no sensitive caddisflies
and low pH." EPT is short for the order names
Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera, and
collectively refers to the families of mayflies, stone-
flies, and caddisflies found in a stream.
                                           In 2003 the Lucinda Watershed Association/Lucinda
                                           Antler Club received a Growing Greener grant to
                                           conduct a Licking Creek Watershed Assessment.
                                           The watershed assessment found that the aban-
                                           doned oil and gas wells must be plugged to raise
                                           the pH of the impaired streams in the Licking
                                           Creek watershed, including Step Run. In response,
                                           the Clarion County Conservation District and the
                                           Alliance for Wetlands and Wildlife plugged four
                                           wells along Step Run (Figure 1).
                                           Jk^Vvv'.'', .-'.'''.-\'- -y4///;-rt~ VVV/oteof, v'i -!V
                                             \    ',    :'&?.. '  v~vS (....;--.  -..  / -,>4-i   " " 
                                                                         AVeI|s in Step Run
                                                                    Clitiioii County. lk
                                          Figure 1. Black dots show the four plugged wells along Step Run.

PADEP did not develop a total maximum daily load
(TMDL) for Step Run or any of the streams to which
it flows on its way to the Clarion River; however,
the TMDL endpointforpH isa minimum of 6.0 in
accordance with the state standard for pH.
Plugging the abandoned wells along the mainstem
of Step Run removed the source of acidity and
allowed water quality to improve. Samples taken by
PADEP's Water Quality and Assessment Division in
the summer of 2007 showed an average pH of 6.7,
which meets standards. Therefore, PADEP removed
3.4 miles of Step Run's mainstem from the state's
2008 303(d) list of impaired waters.
Partners and Funding
Two Growing Greener grants and a PADEP
Environmental Alliance for Senior Involvement
grant, awarded between 2001 and 2004, supported
the watershed assessment, stream monitoring and
well plugging. While no section 319 funds were
specifically used for plugging the abandoned oil
and gas wells, PADEP's Nonpoint Source Program
provided $131,025 as part of a Growing Greener
grant. The Clarion County Conservation District and
the Alliance for Wetlands and Wildlife coordinated
efforts to plug the abandoned oil and gas wells.

Efforts to plug additional abandoned wells that are
impairing waterbodies in the Clarion River Basin
are ongoing. Most notably, the Clarion County
Conservation District along with partners such as
the Alliance for Wetlands and Wildlife continue to
apply for and secure grant funding for this purpose.
     U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
     Office of Water
     Washington, DC

     September 2008
For additional information contact:
Joseph Kelly
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Nonpoint Source Program
Trudy Alexander
District Manager, Clarion County Conservation District
814-226-4070 ext. 111