New study: Drone technology locates unplugged oil and gas wells

You can request the full study here: Successful application of drone-based aeromagnetic surveys to locate legacy oil and gas wells in Cattaraugus county, New York by Timothy de Smet, Alex Nikulin, Natalia Romanzo, Nathan Graber, Charles Dietrich and Andrii Puliaiev, December 2020, Journal of Applied Geophysics, DOI: 10.1016/j.jappgeo.2020.104250

From the air: Drone technology locates unplugged oil and gas wells by Jennifer Micale, February 08, 2021, Binghamton University, State University of New York

America’s first oil and gas rush began before the Civil War, with New York and Pennsylvania at the forefront. In 1821, the country’s first gas well was drilled in Fredonia. The first oil well came to Rushford in 1860.

As the wells went offline through the years, some were plugged with materials ranging from bowling balls to tree trunks. Others simply disappeared from view, their locations lost and overgrown.

Binghamton University geophysics researchers are at the forefront of a new way to locate these abandoned wells safely using drones, and recently published their findings in the Journal of Applied Geophysics. Co-authors of “Successful application of drone-based aeromagnetic surveys to locate legacy oil and gas wells in Cattaraugus County, New York” include Geophysics and Remote Sensing Laboratory Director Timothy de Smet, Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences and Environmental Studies Alex Nikulin and then-graduate student Natalia Romanzo, as well as Nathan Graber and Charles Dietrich from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Andrii Puliaiev of the drone company UMT.

New York State has an estimated 35,000 abandoned oil or gas wells, while Pennsylvania has more than 600,000 dating back to the early days of drilling. Overall, the United States has an estimated 2 million orphaned wells.

These wells pose multiple risks. They release methane into the atmosphere, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, along with chemicals such as benzene, carbon tetrachloride and chloroform. Through sunlight-driven chemical reactions, methane also increases tropospheric ozone, which is considered a pollutant connected with respiratory distress.

“If all the orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells in New York state were plugged, the equivalent of nearly 750,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide could be removed from the atmosphere, which is the equivalent of removing the cars of Buffalo for one year,” de Smet said.

There are economic reasons to plug gas wells, too; left uncapped, these wells make it difficult to re-stimulate older oil fields with newer technologies such as hydraulic fracturing, according to the article.

Plugging the wells is the right thing to do — but first you need to find them.

Send in the drone

In 1879, New York state became the second state in the country to require plugging wells after their useful life has ended. But that plugging requirement was poorly enforced until modern regulations came to the state in 1963, and what constituted “plugging” in those early days was crude by modern standards.

The greatest concentration of unplugged wells lies in the western part of the state, especially near the border with Pennsylvania and in southwestern counties such as Cattaraugus. Currently, state Department of Conversation staff must go out on foot to identify and plug these wells, an incredibly slow and inefficient process for even a small area.

Long before the invention of satellites and global positioning systems (GPS), locations were recorded on crude hand-drawn maps, which are often inaccurate, de Smet said. Sometimes these maps under-report well sites, or record wells that ended up never being drilled. That is, where the maps exist at all.

“Some areas are completely undocumented,” de Smet said.

To find abandoned wells, researchers outfitted a drone with a magnetometer that can detect magnetic anomalies in the wells’ metal casings, pinpointing their location.

But before the technology could be deployed in the larger field, they first needed to do multiple smaller test trials to ensure that the process works as intended. For example, every drone has a unique magnetic and electromagnetic interference signal that needs to be compensated for, de Smet explained.

Nikulin and de Smet have been testing the technology as a way to detect unexploded ordnance in Ukraine, and used advanced signal processing methods to determine the optimal parameters necessary to increase the signal-to-noise ratio. In previous experiments, they also tested flight elevations over the tree canopy.

They finally tried out the well-detecting drone at a Cattaraugus County site where 11 wells had previously been mapped on foot. It worked: In just over three hours, they located 72 wells. Extremely clever and practical. Bravo!

We could actually have flown the drone faster and for longer missions, but this was actually the first time we’d tested this, so we were pretty conservative with mission planning,” de Smet said.

Long-term, the DEC plans to adopt this strategy to locate abandoned wells, which the agency will then plug.

“Our method is pretty much the most reliable method to find them,” de Smet said.

Refer also to:

Groundwater Quality

Slides from Ernst presentations

Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells Become Pollution Portals

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach demands answers to why Calmar homes put in danger and built over abandoned gas well

Calmar residents know the drill as company works to cap abandoned well

Calmar families asked to leave homes again in effort to fix Imperial Oil’s methane leak, Ordered fix made the leak worse

Abandoned well could be source of gas leak

Abandoned CSG wells ‘time bombs’

Dissolved methane in New York groundwater, 1999—2011: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012-1162, 6 p.

USGS study in areas heavily impacted by gas drilling in upstate New York State: 26% of water wells tested showed more than 1 mg/litre of methane!

Planet Sludge: Millions of Abandoned, Leaking Oil Wells and Natural-Gas Wells Destined to Foul Our Future

Perilous Pathways: How Drilling Near An Abandoned Well Produced a Methane Geyser

Abandoned Well May Have Caused Sullivan County Methane Leak

Mountain View County will inform residents about new abandoned energy well rules

Fracking Wells Abandoned in Boom/Bust Cycle. Who Will Pay to Cap Them? Wyoming “May” Act to Plug Abandoned Wells as Boom Ends

Pipelines, facilities and active and abandoned energy wells can throw wrench into city planning; Trying to give city of Lethbridge more say

Two-tiered Alberta: Urban, but not rural, home owners and businesses get inspections and protections from leaking abandoned energy wells and stratigraphic test holes: St. Albert residents sitting on abandoned oil and gas wells

Are Suspended/Abandoned Oilfield Wells Dangerous? Oil Field Worker Critical After Being Burned in Robertson County Explosion

Pennsylvania: Venango County Man Falsified Certificates Related To Plugging Abandoned Oil Wells; “The discovery of Wright’s falsification…has required the re-inspection, and likely re-drilling and re-plugging, of 95 wells”

Action needed on abandoned energy wells leaking methane in Quebec

Alberta faces growing backlog of abandoned oil and gas wells, Millions [or billions?] needed to clean up sites and mitigate environmental risk

Leak in 100 year old shallow natural gas well caused serious methane migration into Waynesburg Medical Center; Methane build-up rendered the center uninhabitable!

Special Report: Uncovering abandoned oil and natural gas wells

Danger Below? New Properties Hide Abandoned Oil And Gas Wells

“Prosperous” Greedy Alberta: Bankrupt energy firms add to abandoned well problems, Nearly 150,000 oil wells are inactive or abandoned

Excellent letters in Edmoton Journal: Abandoned well clean-up diagnosis correct, but not the cure

Is AER vs Redwater worsening cleanup of abandoned oil and gas wells in Alberta, BC and Sasktchewan? Did AER file the lawsuit intentionally to set legal precedent and dump clean up costs on taxpayers to enhance profits for oil and gas companies?

Harmful Levels Benzene, CO2 Detected at MidWest School Surrounded by 744 Active & Abandoned Oil Wells Within 1 Mile Radius, Including CO2 Injection Wells for Enhanced Recovery by Anadarko, Now Owned by Fleur de lis

Texas: Natural gas leaks (from aging leaking gas well?) into abandoned water well in Denton; state investigates (Wanna bet the regulator & company owning the leaking gas well blame nature?)

Investigation finds Anadarko guilty, not Nature in Firestone Colorado home explosion: Investigators say industry’s gas migrated into home from abandoned flow line attached to energy well, killed two, injured two. How many homes globally have industry’s methane migrating into them, putting lives at risk with regulators everywhere looking the other way?

Calgary Executive Million Dollar Bonuses Increased 40.6% in 2016, Comparatively Nothing Paid to Clean Up Liabilities/Abandoned Wells/Facilities

Gaspé, Québec: Plusieurs puits abandonnées fuient encore; Several abandoned energy wells still leaking; Natural Resources Ministry handing out permits for more drilling instead of fixing the life threatening problems

Kansas: Industry’s “natural” gas from abandoned energy wells leaking into massive underground storage field, creating public safety hazard

To Honour the Fallen on Remembrance Day: Make public AER’s secret “D79 Abandoned Well Methane Toxicity Preliminary Assessment” & Appendix 2 by Alberta Health, Admitting “Acute-Life threatening” risks & “Neurological effects”

Bow Island, Alberta: “Water” well beside Chantel Timmons’ home leaking white foam & dangerous levels natural gas. Is it an abandoned shallow gas well or historic stratigraphic test well? Charter violating, No Public Interest or Public Health mandate, “No Duty of Care” AER shirking its duties, yet again

Quebec: 700 abandoned energy wells remain unattended to. Canada’s *multi-billion dollar* abandoned oil & gas well problem exponentially increasing. Where are the authorities? AER execs busy eating two-steak lunches, Judges knowingly publishing lies in rulings

Frac Hit at Fox Creek? Wanna bet industry’s pet lamb, AER, will issue no fine? 460,000 litres fluids & contaminated water spews forth from abandoned Sprocket Energy Corp sour gas well 6 km SW of Fox Creek, Nothing reported in the media!

Ontario 2 years ago: In Norfolk, leaking abandoned industry *sour* gas wells forces exclusion zone for vehicles, vessels, and evacuation of 22 homes. In nearby Town of Jarvis (population 2,300), unusually high methane readings, firefighters test gas levels at every home. Compare to grossly negligent, “No Duty of Care,” Charter-violating, lying, spying, heinous AER covering-up industry’s deadly gas leaks.

The biggest con ever? Millions of abandoned wells enabled by politicians, regulators & courts. Oil, gas ‘n frac industry rapes, profits ‘n runs, hangs the public with clean up, a climate menace & endless health harms & cruelty

Cleanup of abandoned oil & gas wells onshore could cost Americans $278 billion, Texans $117 billion, Albertans $260 billion: “The industry is incentivized to delay, pray and walk away. This is a system that’s designed to fail.” In Canada too.

Front Page New York Times! Satan Hailing Frac’ers Lynch the People. Oil & Gas companies hurtling into bankruptcy (intentionally – to avoid lawsuits, leak repair & clean-up, enabled by taxpayer-funded courts) as execs snatch millions in unjust rewards (also enabled by our courts).

California: Suspected methane leak destroys home in explosion, injures two people inside, seriously damages house next door; Gas levels too high to safely investigate, source unknown: “The methane could be from abandoned oil wells under the home or nearby oil fields”

Canada underestimated methane emissions from abandoned wells by as much as 150 per cent; Texas and Alberta have highest percentage of wells but no prior pollution measurement. Of course not, Alberta is Hell where regulators help Encana/Ovintiv illegally frac community drinking water aquifers. Kassie Siegel, director Climate Law Institute: “Big Oil is getting rich. For individual, ordinary people, it’s all risk and no reward.”

Pennsylvania regulator DEP fines Range Resources $300K for submitting inaccurate information and not plugging idle wells, meanwhile Canadian regulators, especially AER, help profit-raping companies deceive the public (for decades) and dump well plugging and clean up on taxpayers.

Ohio, Noble Co: Genesis Resources LLC gas well (unused for years) sprays out what is suspected to be toxic injected frac waste (radioactive?); Over two miles of fish kill. Chemical contents will most likely never be disclosed. In a similar incident in 2020, injected frac waste migrated more than five miles.

This entry was posted in Global Frac News. Bookmark the permalink.