Larry Beahan's July 6 opinion piece about plugging abandoned oil wells in Allegany State Park incorrectly suggests that plugging abandoned oil wells is only required when wells contaminate ground water. The truth is that wells must be plugged before they cause a problem. State environmental conservation law requires the plugging of all abandoned oil and gas wells in order to protect public health, safety and the environment, including ground water resources.
Abandoned wells can allow oil, gas and salt water from far below the surface to pollute ground water. A well that appears to be simply a hole in the ground can create unseen problems, including continuing pollution of ground water, until it is properly plugged. If this pollution occurs, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to correct.
The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has long recognized this problem and has been plugging abandoned wells in the park since the 1960s, most recently having plugged a number of wells earlier this year.
Modern well-plugging methods are more complex than just covering the hole up with rock and sand. They involve filling the entire depth of the well-bore with materials such as cement to prevent underground movement of fluids that can pollute ground water. These steps are needed to provide lasting protection to the environment. They also eliminate the public safety hazard of open holes in the ground.
Plugging must be done under a Department of Environmental Conservation permit, subject to inspections by DEC Division of Mineral Resources staff. Both parks staff and the DEC work to ensure that any disturbance to the existing lands are minimized.
We believe that the park will be best protected by addressing its environmental liabilities, not ignoring them. Allegany State Park is a jewel of the Southern Tier, and we will continue to work cooperatively to ensure that it is enhanced and protected.
Gerald F. Mikol
Regional Director, DEC