ALBANY – A state-partnered effort is leveraging new drone technology and magnetic surveillance to spot abandoned oil and gas wells in New York state.
The State Department of Environmental Conservation reports that it has located more than 2,000 orphaned wells that may continue to release methane into the atmosphere. These well assessments were based on interviews with landowners, lease maps and on-site ground assessments.
The State’s Energy Research and Development Authority has pledged to support DEC’s existing efforts and has pledged to invest up to $ 400,000 in drones and custom imaging equipment for wells, mainly in western and central New York.
Orphan named wells, idle oil and gas infrastructure with no known owner can be abandoned for decades before being rediscovered. Some orphan wells in the state were closed more than a century ago, DEC commissioner Basil Seggos said. But methane leaking from former active sites is a constant concern.
The DEC reports that methane is second after carbon dioxide in its overall contribution to global climate change. In New York City, methane accounts for nearly 10% of annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to DEC data.
Orphaned and abandoned unconnected wells with known owners can also harbor oil and gas migration channels – between geological formations, in aquifers, directly in waterways, or on the Earth’s surface.
“Plugging these wells is essential to reduce fugitive methane from escaping into the atmosphere and is further evidence that New York is taking leading actions to reduce greenhouse gases from sources – large and small. – across the state, ”Seggos said.
Specialized drones record the magnetic signals generated by the wells and the signal data is used to map locations for possible on-site searches. When an orphan well is identified, DEC staff assess the risks to public safety and the environment, often resulting in the well being plugged. Since 2014, the department has plugged 340 abandoned wells as part of the New York Works Well Plugging Initiative, initially budgeted by the state in 2013.
DEC has regulatory authority to take possession of abandoned wells and initiate plugging and reconnection under Article 23 of the National Environmental Protection Act. This process of possession was financially supported in 1982, when the state legislature established the Oil and Gas Account to fund the plugging of orphan and other abandoned wells.
Historic oil and gas drilling has been concentrated in the southern and western parts of the state, although abandoned wells have been identified as far north as central New York City and the southern edge of the northern country.
NYSERDA Interim President and CEO Doreen M. Harris described investing in drones as one more tool in the “arsenal” to tackle climate change and meet defined emission reduction targets in the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, also known as the Climate Act.
Among other requirements, the climate law provides for a 40% reduction in 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2030 and 85% by 2050.
More information on ongoing and completed well plugging projects is posted on the DEC website.