Measurement and Testing

  • How Are Drones Helping with Abandoned Oil Wells?

How Are Drones Helping with Abandoned Oil Wells?

Feb 02 2021

In an exciting leap forward for climate change, a joint initiative between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will see drones used to pinpoint abandoned oil and gas wells in New York. The Empire State is peppered with inactive wells that release methane into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. More potent than carbon dioxide, methane actively absorbs the suns heat and warms the atmosphere, making it one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases.

NY launches airborne surveillance

The chemical compound represents around 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the state and has been identified as a major contributor to New York’s environmental footprint. To address the statewide issue, DEC and NYSERDA have invested almost £300,000 in custom-built drones and sophisticated methane detection instrumentation. The fleet will be used to detect abandoned wells across Central and Western New York, including many that were drilled in the 19th century before the state introduced regulations.

“With our partners at NYSERDA, DEC is deploying cutting-edge drone technology to map and locate orphan oil and gas wells, some of which were abandoned more than a century ago,” says DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

Tracing “orphan” wells across the Empire State

Already DEC has tracked down and assessed more than 2000 “orphan” wells, many located on private property and in remote areas. Now, the department will take to the skies and use drone technology to identify wells from the air. Concentrations are particularly high in the western portion of the state, which was the beating heart of the oil and gas drilling boom in the 1880s. The peak year of 1882 saw around 6.7 million barrels of crude oil extracted from New York State.

While today producers are required to properly decommission wells the same practices were not enforced in the 19th and 20th centuries. As a result, many abandoned mines continue to release methane into the atmosphere. Seggos says identifying and plugging these wells is “critical to reducing fugitive methane from escaping into the atmosphere and is further proof that New York is undertaking nation-leading actions to reduce greenhouse gases from sources – large and small – across the state.”

Alongside methane, sulfur is also a threat to the natural environment at high concentrations. Find out more about what’s being done to regulate emissions in ‘Sulfur monitoring in oil refineries products’ featuring insight from L. Lorena Torres on behalf of CI Analytics


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