ABSTRACT

This study demonstrates the application of aeromagnetic surveys for locating late 1800s-era oil and gas wells in Hillman State Park. The study area in southwestern Pennsylvania offered several unique challenges to locating legacy wells. Location records for many of Pennsylvania’s legacy wells do not exist. Those that do exist are often incomplete and inaccurate, and old wells were commonly abandoned without effective plugging. Now, unplugged legacy wells may serve as vertical migration pathways for fluids and gas associated with modern oil and gas operations. Wells in Hillman State Park were abandoned in the early 1900s, leaving little evidence of a well site. However, the steel well casing commonly remained at the site. Between 1940 and 1960, 50% of the land area at Hillman State Park was surface mined for coal. The removal of coal overburden also removed the upper well casings in surface-mined areas to the depth of the coal. The wells were then buried under mine spoil during regrading operations. Today, much of Hillman State Park is covered in trees and dense vegetation, and locating wells with ground-level searches is difficult, time consuming, and often futile. The airborne magnetic survey used in this study identified well locations, including buried wells in mined areas, based on the unique magnetic signature of vertical, steel well casing. The results of the aeromagnetic survey were combined with aerial photography, historic maps, and high-resolution topographic data in a geographic information system to refine well locations prior to verification with a ground search.

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