Drones to locate abandoned oil and gas wells in New York

The wells release methane, which is many times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and is second only to CO2 in its overall contribution to climate change

Drone technology is to be deployed in New York to locate ageing and abandoned oil and gas wells that release methane emissions into the environment.

Methane is many times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and is second only to CO2 in its overall contribution to climate change.

Representing almost 10% of New York annual greenhouse gas emissions, methane reduction is a vital piece of the state’s policies to address the risks from climate change.

The joint initiative between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will see an investment of up to $400,000 (£299,739) in custom-built drone equipment and instrumentation that will be used to detect abandoned oil and gas wells primarily in Central and Western New York.

These regions were drilled for oil and gas starting in the 19th Century, before the state’s regulatory programmes and often in remote locations.

DEC has located and assessed more than 2,000 of these wells to date by talking to local landowners, conducting research and onsite ground searches.

Its work on orphan wells in New York indicates thousands of additional abandoned wells may continue to emit methane gas into the atmosphere.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said: “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.

“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.”

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