Note: This story appears in the Friday, Sept. 13 newspaper on Page A1.
An old salt well located on the outskirts of Athens is in the process of being sealed after local workers discovered its existence earlier this year.
The well on Armitage Road in Athens Twp. dates back to around 200 years ago, according to Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials. Workers with ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management hosted a tour of the well Thursday, outlining plans to plug this and hundreds of other “orphan wells” in Ohio.
Athens workers were drilling a monitoring well in the area, where there is a nearby freshwater source, when they found the 1800s well.
Officials at Thursday’s tour said the Armitage well holds some historical significance. It appears to be hand-dug, they said, and may have taken upward of a year to dig. It is about 300 to 500 feet deep, according to Jason Simmerman, an ODNR well program engineering manager.
Much of what is known about the well has been drawn from historical records. It was once operated by Armitage Saltworks, for which the nearby road is named. Salt was shipped across the nation thanks to the nearby railroad.
Officials found that the old well was leaking some of its salty contents and a small amount of natural gas. To prevent contamination, ODNR will place an underground column of concrete to keep the surrounding area protected from toxins.
There were concerns about how the plugging project might go, with fears the heavy construction equipment would hurt the nearby Hockhocking Adena Bikeway surface. Contractors have used extra precautions, which seem to be working as planned.
On Thursday, workers were beginning to clear out any contents of the well by flushing it out with “drilling mud” — a slurry of water and clay — and slowly finding the bottom of the well. An extra layer of lining was placed below to ensure none of the water, although clean, drains into the water field.
The city will not be spending any money at the Armitage Road site. Funding comes from the Orphan Well Program and the Ohio Oil and Gas Severance Tax.
State funding for the Orphan Well Program has increased in recent years, with a reported 173 well projects completed during the last fiscal year. The goal this year is to plug 200 wells.
More than 700 orphan wells have been identified across the state, including nearly two-dozen in Athens County said Adam Schroeder, public information officer for the Division of Oil and Gas. Plugging them had been an issue before due to a lack of funding, but Schroeder the recent increase means that less-critical projects such as the Armitage Road well can be tackled. Simmerman, the ODNR engineering manager, said more “critical” orphan wells across the state have been found near homes, schools and underneath pools.