Range Resources Corp. agreed to pay a $294,000 fine to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for failing to properly classify over 40 inactive conventional oil and gas wells.

Penn Department of Environmental Protection

DEP said the company applied for inactive status for the Shirocky No. 1 well in Fayette County in September 2017, indicating that it planned to return the well to production at a future date. However, regulators said Range included conflicting interoffice communication with its application indicating the well had no viable future use. 

Pennsylvania requires that inactive wells meet various criteria, including being viable for use within five years. If the wells are no longer viable and haven’t produced for 12 consecutive months, they’re required to be classified as abandoned and must be plugged. 

After the Shirocky incident, DEP said it subpoenaed Range and discovered that between 2013 and 2017, 42 of the conventional wells were incorrectly placed on inactive status and never used again. 

“Range Resources should have classified the wells with no viable future use as abandoned and plugged them,” DEP said. “Similar to the Shirocky well, these wells were ineligible for inactive status and should have never been included in the requests.”

Range has since sold the assets in question, according to spokesperson Mark Windle. DEP never alleged that the wells had any impact on the environment. Moreover, 41 of the wells have since been returned to production or plugged. The remaining well is scheduled to be plugged in 2021. 

“Range has operated in Pennsylvania for more than 25 years and has a strong track record of properly plugging wells while complying with DEP requirements,” Windle said. “Range accepted responsibility for the error caused by a former employee and cooperated with the DEP to address its concerns. Range worked diligently to plug all the appropriate wells.”

DEP said proceeds from the fine were deposited into the state’s well plugging program to use for orphan wells that have no responsible operator. Abandoned wells are a major problem throughout the Appalachian Basin, where U.S. oil and gas production began in Pennsylvania in the 19th century. DEP estimates that anywhere from 200,000-560,000 abandoned wells are scattered throughout the state.