Inactive Oil Wells May Be a Big Source of Methane Emissions

Jacob Hoschouer Samples Inactive Oil Well

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UC undergraduate research study assistant Jacob Hoschouer takes samples from a non-active oil well. Credit: UC Geology

Geologist research studies greenhouse gas emissions from uncapped, idle wells in Texas.

Uncapped, idle oil wells might be dripping countless kgs of methane each year into the environment and surface area water, according to a research study by the University of Cincinnati.

Amy Townsend-Small, an associate teacher of geology and location in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences, studied 37 wells on personal property in the Permian Basin of Texas, the biggest oil production area on Earth. She discovered that 7 had methane emissions of as much as 132 grams per hour. The typical rate was 6.2 grams per hour.

“Some of them were leaking a lot. Most of them were leaking a little or not at all, which is a pattern that we have seen across the oil and gas supply chain,” Townsend-Small stated. “A few sources are responsible for most of the leaks.”

The research study released in the journal Environmental Research Letters is the very first of its kind on methane emissions from non-active oil wells in Texas.

“Nobody has ever gotten access to these wells in Texas,” Townsend-Small stated. “In my previous studies, the wells were all on public land.”

Amy Townsend Inactive Oil Well

UC associate teacher Amy Townsend-Small stands in front of ponding water from a non-active oil well. Credit: UC Geology

A 2016 research study by Townsend-Small discovered a comparable concern in non-active wells she evaluated in Colorado, Wyoming, Ohio and Utah. Spread throughout the approximated 3.1 million deserted wells, the dripping methane is comparable to burning more than 16 million barrels of oil, according to federal government quotes.

Five of the non-active wells Townsend-Small studied were dripping a salt water service onto the ground, in many cases producing big ponds.

“I was horrified by that. I’ve never seen anything like that here in Ohio,” Townsend-Small stated. “One was gushing out so much water that people who lived there called it a lake, but it’s toxic. It has dead trees all around it and smells like hydrogen sulfide.”

Most of the wells had actually been non-active for 3 to 5 years, perhaps since of variations in market need. Inactive wells might be a significant source of methane emissions if they are exempt to leakage detection and repair work policies, the UC research study concluded.

Amy Townsend-Small

UC associate teacher Amy Townsend-Small. Credit: Jay Yocis/UC Creative

The research study was moneyed in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Previous research studies have actually discovered the basin produces 2.7 billion kgs of methane each year or almost 4% of the overall gas drawn out. That’s 60% greater than the typical methane emissions in oil and gas production areas nationally. This was credited to high rates of venting and flaring due to an absence of gas pipelines and other gas production facilities.

Methane is an effective greenhouse gas that researchers have actually connected to environment modification. If the rate of methane leakages UC observed corresponded throughout all 102,000 idled wells in Texas, the 5.5 million kgs of methane launched would be comparable to burning 150 million pounds of coal each year, according to a quote by the publication Grist and not-for-profit wire service the Texas Observer.

Townsend-Small and her UC undergraduate research study assistant Jacob Hoschouer, a research study co-author, pertained to Texas at the recommendation of the media companies, which wished to check out the ecological effect of oil wells, especially those that are non-active or deserted. An specialist on methane emissions, Townsend-Small has actually studied releases from oil and gas wells throughout the nation.

“A journalist called asking about abandoned wells. And the more we talked, the more I thought, ‘Maybe I can just drive down there?’” Townsend-Small stated.

The reporters organized with the homeowner for Townsend-Small to take a look at the wells. 

Hoschouer, who finished from UC in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in ecological research studies, performed comparable tests at dripping wells in southeast Ohio. In Texas, they utilized unique tools to gather and evaluate air samples where methane may be dripping from the well.

President Joe Biden’s administration has actually promised $16 billion in its facilities strategy to cap deserted oil and gas wells and reduce deserted mines. Hoschouer stated it would be pleasing if their research study might assist regulators focus on wells for topping.

“If they happened to cap one of the wells we studied, that would be really satisfying,” he stated.

In the meantime, routine evaluations of non-active wells utilizing infrared electronic cameras to recognize leakages might deal with the issue, the UC research study recommended.

Hoschouer stated he feels lucky to have actually gotten research study experience as a UC undergrad. He approached Townsend-Small about studying in air contamination at a time when she was aiming to fill a research study assistant position.

“That’s my one piece of advice to other students: If someone wants to go into research, go ask a professor who’s working in your field of interest,” he stated. “It’s incredible how many opportunities there are.”

Reference: “Direct measurements from shut-in and other abandoned wells in the Permian Basin of Texas indicate some wells are a major source of methane emissions and produced water” by Amy Townsend-Small and Jacob Hoschouer, Accepted, Environmental Research Letters.
DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/abf06f

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