Abandoned Oil Well Likely Source Of Chemical Odor, Sheen on River

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An orphaned oil well, possibly more than 100 years old, appears to be the source of the petrochemical odor and accompanying oily sheen on the Ottawa River, near Talmadge Road.

Spotted last month by an observant Villager who was out walking his dog, all that remains of the old well is a pipe coming out of the ground about 40 feet from the north bank of the Ottawa River, in the Village-owned parklands.

Many states consider abandoned oil wells that are inactive, with no responsible party to plug the well and restore the location, as orphaned wells.

Over the past few years residents have reported occasionally smelling the odor of a petrochemical - possibly heating oil, kerosene, or asphalt - coming from the vicinity of the river, east of Talmadge Road. Environmental crews contacted by the Village made repeated trips to the vicinity over the past two years, but were unable to locate the odor or a source, until this year.

Reports this March were of a persistent odor, and this time included sightings of an oily sheen on the river.

Samples taken by the City of Toledo's Division of Environmental Services showed no signs of petrochemicals in the river water, but the odor and sheen persisted. When the pipe, or casing, was found, experts examined the area.

Environmental Engineer John Hull, of Hull and Associates, visited the site of the suspect well at the request of Village Administrator Marc Thompson.

"Marc called me, he knows we work in the environmental realm, and I volunteered to look at it," Hull said. The firm has worked on remediation of old oil wells, among other projects.

"It looks to be a casing from an old well," Hull said.

"In my practice and experience, we have encountered dozens of these, sometimes even below ground, where the casing was cut off and buried," Hull said. "They were always supposed to be abandoned and plugged. But it was a very common practice in the old days to put a plug just in the top of casing."

Northwest Ohio enjoyed an oil boom in the 1880s, especially in Wood county, which was dotted with hundreds upon hundreds of oil wells. From 1895 to 1903 Ohio was the top crude oil producing state in the country.

While western Lucas county did not experience the same boom as Wood county, Hull said it would not be beyond the realm of possibility for a farmer or speculator to have drilled a well where this casing has been found, prior to the establishment of the Village in 1915.

"It doesn't surprise me, even that this has been there a long time, that it manifested itself only in the last few years," Hull said.

"I am fairly sure that is the culprit for the (oil) seeping into the river," Hull said. He speculated the casing may have deteriorated below the surface.

The top priority is to stop oil from seeping into the river. For that, the Village has reached out to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

"ODNR maintains a fund to address orphan wells when they are encountered," Hull said. "They are usually very prompt and very professional. It has been my experience that the ODNR has been very cooperative in addressing the matters."

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oil well, orphan well, Ottawa River
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