Study Identifies Highest Methane Emitters of Abandoned US Wells

Scientists have identified specific attributes of abandoned oil and gas wells that are emitting high levels of methane, which should make identifying and addressing these wells easier.

Scientists at Princeton, Stanford and Ohio universities, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that high-emitting wells are natural gas wells that have been unplugged, or gas wells in coal regions that were plugged but vented, a safety measured used for old in coal areas.

The study focused on the Marcellus shale play in Pennsylvania. The findings of that study were published in the Nov. 14 edition of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The most effective solution to stopping the release of greenhouse gases from abandoned wells is to focus on the highest-emitting wells,” Michael Celia, Princeton’s Theodora Shelton Pitney Professor of Environmental Studies and a professor of civil and environmental engineering, said in a Nov. 16 press statement. “Using our findings, states can apply their resources where it will make the greatest difference.”

The study focused on the Marcellus because of the long history of oil and gas activity in Pennsylvania, starting in 1859, Mary Kang, a Stanford post-doctoral researcher who worked with Celia and co-author Denise Mauzerall on the study while a doctoral student at Princeton, said to Rigzone in an email statement.

“The government did not have programs dedicated to making records of wells until the 1950s,” Kang explained. “New wells are likely to be well-documented, but it’s the old wells that are missing. We need a better system for finding and documenting old wells.”

The study results are applicable to other parts of the United States with a long history of oil and gas activity, such as California, Kang said.

No oil and gas companies have contacted the scientists about using the study findings to create a technology or solution to identify high-emitting wells, Kang commented.

“But companies with measurement and sensing technology have shown interest in using their technology to identify our high emitters,” Kang said.

Methane emissions from U.S. oil and gas wells have been recently targeted by new regulations from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These regulations have been part of the administration’s goal of reducing methane emissions from oil and gas activity by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at kboman@rigzone.com

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