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Oil and Gas

Pennsylvania is the birthplace of commercial oil production, thanks to Colonel Edwin L. Drake. Drake drilled the first well specifically intended to produce oil in Titusville, Pa., in 1859. His success launched a global industry upon which most of our modern lives depend.

The Pennsylvania Geological Survey’s educational booklet Oil and Gas in Pennsylvania (PDF) and its Spring 1998 issue of Pennsylvania Geology (PDF) are good sources of information about how oil and gas resources are formed and extracted.

As of 2012, Pennsylvania oil fields had produced approximately 1.4 billion barrels of crude oil. That’s more than enough oil to fill 6.5 million swimming pools 20 feet in diameter and four feet deep.

Likewise, Pennsylvania’s natural gas production has exceeded 16 trillion cubic feet since 1906, when gas production was first measured. During 2012 alone, Pennsylvania gas wells produced more than two trillion cubic feet of gas -- enough to meet the fuel needs of all the homes in the state for 2.5 years.

All of this oil and gas came from an estimated 330,000 wells that had been drilled in Pennsylvania as of 2012, according to an article in Environmental Science & Technology.

Oil and Gas Extraction in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania lies in the heart of the Appalachian basin, where early drilling activity (19th century through early 20th century) occurred primarily within the top 2,000 feet of the subsurface. In the 1930s, drillers started targeting reservoirs located several thousand feet below the surface.

Most recently, the 2004 discovery of the modern Marcellus shale play in Washington County, Pa., led to widescale development of organic-rich shales a mile or more deep.

New technology and ideas made targeting such unconventional reservoirs profitable. Well companies began drilling horizontally into the shale to intersect thousands of feet of additional reserves, greatly increasing the potential to produce more oil and gas.

Appalachian Storage Hub for Natural Gas Liquids

State officials in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia are promoting a high-technology program to enhance economic development by expanding the market for ethane from the liquids-rich Marcellus and Utica shale gas fields in southwestern Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, and northern West Virginia.

Their vision is to link these gas fields to end users in southern West Virginia and northeastern Kentucky via a pipeline that essentially follows the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers.

Petrochemical plants (aka crackers) convert ethane and other natural gas liquids (NGLs) to ethylene, which is used as a building block for a vast range of chemicals -- from plastics to antifreeze. These crackers require a steady, dependable supply of NGLs.

Since production of NGLs from the shale gas fields may not occur at a consistent rate, storing NGLs underground at some point along the pipeline route is essential.

The Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium (AONGRC) conducted a one-year geologic study to determine the potential to create an Appalachian Storage Hub (ASH) for NGLs.

The research team, which included geologists from DCNR’s Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, identified potential reservoirs for the secure storage of petroleum hydrocarbons near the proposed pipeline route. Additional information is available in their final report:

A Geologic Study to Determine the Potential to Create an Appalachian Storage Hub for Natural Gas Liquids (PDF)

Do you Think You have an Abandoned Oil or Gas Well on Your Property?

A frequent request to the Pennsylvania Geological Survey is whether it has location, geologic, and/or production information for one or more wells situated on an individual’s property.

To obtain this kind of information for an oil or gas well on your land, gather as much of the following information as possible:

  • County
  • Municipality
  • Property address
  • Local landmarks (route numbers, cities, or other features that would appear on a topographic map) -- particularly if in a rural area
  • Farm name, lease number, type of well, and/or well depth

Then, visit or call the survey’s Pittsburgh regional office to place your service request.

How to Determine the Oil and Gas Rights for Private Property

Ownership of oil and gas rights is specified on property deeds, often in cryptic legal text. A thorough deed search at a county courthouse is necessary to determine if your property still retains the oil and gas rights for the ground underneath it.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Oil and Gas Management, is a good source of information about:

  • Drilling or purchasing oil and gas wells
  • Issues for landowners who do not own the oil and gas rights
  • Legitimacy of oil and gas operators

Database of Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Wells (EDWIN)

The Pennsylvania Geological Survey manages the Exploration and Development Well Information Network (EDWIN) to provide users access to the state’s 180,000-plus, oil and gas wells of record.

EDWIN includes both scanned oil and gas well documents and associated digital and interpreted data through a single, web-based application that accesses database contents stored in the Cloud.

EDWIN is accessible free of charge by visiting either of the bureau’s offices (Pittsburgh or Middletown) during normal business hours. EDWIN also is available as a subscription service for those desiring the convenience of 24/7 remote access to Pennsylvania’s oil and gas well information.