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New York Uses Drones to Find, Plug ‘Orphan’ Gas Wells

Perhaps surprisingly, New York has a history of oil and gas drilling, largely in the western part of the state. At its peak in 1882, nearly 6.7 million barrels of crude oil were extracted in the Empire State.

A DJI Inspire 2 drone
A DJI Inspire 2 drone in flight.
(TNS) — Not everyone knows this but New York has a history of oil and gas drilling, largely in the western part of the state. At its peak in 1882, nearly 6.7 million barrels of crude oil were extracted in the Empire State.

Those days are long gone but many of the thousands of wells, with many dating to the 19th and early 20th centuries, have since been abandoned and fallen into obscurity.

The trouble is, they could be leaking methane gas, which pound for pound is more potent than carbon dioxide and is a leading source of greenhouse gases associated with global warming. Methane gas accounts for about 10 percent of the state's annual greenhouse gas emissions.

With growing interest in capturing methane leaks, researchers and technicians at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and Department of Environmental Conservation are preparing to use drones to detect these leaks from above. Once identified, the leaks can be plugged.

NYSERDA is spending up to $400,000 for custom-built drone equipment and instrumentation that will be used by DEC to detect these abandoned and possibly leaky oil and gas wells, mostly in central and western New York.

These old wells are often in remote locations. There's no definitive count of "orphan" oil and gas wells in New York state, but DEC has already located and assessed more than 2,000 of them by talking to local landowners, doing records research and through on-site ground searches.

They believe there are thousands more with many still leaking methane gas.

Using old lease maps and locally gathered information as a starting point, the drones fly overhead and can detect magnetic signals produced by the wells at specific GPS coordinates. Signal anomalies and other data will then be used to create maps to visit the wells on the ground.

Then they can determine if the well is leaking.

The state has already used other methods such as on the ground searches to plug 340 wells since 2014.

This won't be the first time that aerial surveys are used to help find leaks.

For more than a decade now, pipeline companies have used aircraft with lasers to follow the routes of buried pipelines and detect leaks.

(c)2020 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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