Environmental activists are calling on a state agency to waive access fees for a database containing detailed information on orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells across the Commonwealth that they believe Pennsylvania taxpayers should have free access.
Oil and gas well watchdogs are calling on the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to remove the $5,000 subscription fee and $500 annual maintenance fee from its Exploration and Development Well Information Network (EDWIN) database.
“Oil and gas well records should be available to all citizens of Pennsylvania, not just a select few citizens with the ability to pay the exorbitant DCNR fees,” reads a petition to the Secretary of State. DCNR, Cindy Adams Dunn. “We, the undersigned, demand that DCNR stop charging citizens $5,500.00 to access the EDWIN database.”
From Friday afternoon, the petition on MoveOn.org, created by Best Path Coalition, a statewide environmental advocacy group, co-founder Karen Feridun, had more than 1,000 signatures. A similar petition on Change.org created by fellow activist Laurie Barr, co-founder of Record our PA streamshad over 100 signatures.
The EDWIN database, named in honor of Edwin Drake, whose Titusville well touched oil in 1859, contains, among other details, location data, ownership status, construction information, and completion reports of oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania .
The database was created in 1995 using data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. DEP data is then processed and published on EDWIN by the Pennsylvania Geologic Survey (PAGS), a state bureau overseen by DCNR, to provide a “comprehensive view of Pennsylvania oil and gas well data”.
Pennsylvanians who wish to access data found in EDWIN have two options: drive to PAGS offices in Pittsburgh or Middletown, Dauphin County, during regular business hours for free data access, or pay one-time subscription fees and annual maintenance fees, for 24-hour data access and 7 days a week from their personal computer.
According to DCNR, EDWIN subscription fees include the costs of “software license to access the system, technical training and support for using the system, and software upgrades and maintenance. required”.
DCNR said fees collected to access EDWIN are used to “purchase client licenses, support software, and make the system self-contained.” The department notes that EDWIN’s subscription fees have not increased in its 27-year existence despite rising costs for hosting and maintaining the database.
“Knowing it exists, I wish I could access it…but I don’t have $5,000,” Barr said, adding that she was being driven to Pittsburgh from her home in Coudersport, Potter County – a three-and-a-half to four-hour drive each way – to access EDWIN for free.
Barr, who uses the EDWIN database run by DCNR to locate orphaned and abandoned wells for his stream health research, says EDWIN data is more reliable and provides better information than data from the DEP, which oversees oil and gas wells in the Commonwealth, as well as plugging operations.
DEP spokeswoman Deborah Klenotic said DEP’s oil and gas well data tools are “complementary” to DCNR’s tools, including the EDWIN database.
“The purpose of public reporting and DEP requests is to provide the most accurate and up-to-date data available on well sites and surface-related activities, such as earthworks and permitting; crossing/encroachment of watercourses and authorisations; waste storage, treatment and disposal and permits/approvals; and inspection, enforcement and compliance data,” Klenotic said.
“In contrast, EDWIN provides “in-depth analysis” of individual well data, primarily downhole construction and wellbore geological profile, as well as geological reservoir information. Much of this data is reviewed, interpreted and possibly updated by DCNR geologists,” she said.
Klenotic also told the Capital-Star that most DEP publicly available oil and gas well data is “operator-reported,” which could explain some of the inaccuracies – missing/non-existent wells and wells with incorrect plugging statuses – which Barr discovered after visiting reported well sites using DEP data.
Klenotic said that “if errors are identified, the DEP contacts the operator and asks them to resubmit the corrected data.”
“The DEP records are a mess,” Barr said, pointing out that problems with the DEP records are part of why accessing the data in EDWIN is vital.
Barr said waiving subscription fees and giving everyone access to EDWIN could help prospective buyers in Pennsylvania make informed purchasing decisions.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to know you’re not buying someone’s oil field?” Barr asked. “Wouldn’t it be great if an insurance company could look at a database and find out if there’s a sink there?
“It needs to be made available to people,” Barr continued.
Feridun told the Capital-Star that she plans to submit the petitions to DCNR’s Dunn on or around July 25 for consideration.
“Hopefully DCNR will take the step we’re asking them to take,” Feridun said, “this is our data.”
A DCNR spokesperson told Capital-Star in an email that they “appreciate the interest” in EDWIN and “will consider this feedback for future iterations.”