There are millions of oil wells in the United States, more than 170,000 known and developed in Russia, and there may be millions of unknowns, all of which pose a serious threat to the environment. With the help of drones, researchers at the University of Binghamton have developed a new method for detecting new hard-to-reach and dangerous oil wells.

New York State has about 35,000 abandoned oil or gas wells, and Pennsylvania has more than 600,000 early drilling. In total, there are about 2 million abandoned people in the United States. These wells have many risks. They emit methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere, as well as chemicals such as benzene, carbon tetrachloride and chloroform. Through chemical reactions caused by sunlight, methane also increases tropospheric ozone, which is believed to be a respiratory distressing pollutant.

“If all abandoned oil and gas wells in New York State were plugged, almost 750,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide could be removed from the atmosphere, which is the equivalent of removing all cars in Buffalo, a 1.1 million metropolitan area. – “Hi-tech”) for one year “

Timothy de Smet, director of the Geophysics and Remote Sensing Laboratory, Binghamton University.
There are also economic reasons for shutting in wells. Left without closure, they make it difficult to re-stimulate old oil fields with new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing.

In 1879, New York State became the second state in the nation to require wells to be closed at the end of their useful life. But this plugging requirement did not apply until modern regulations were adopted in the state in 1963, and what was considered a “plug” in those early days was a very crude method by modern standards.

Nowadays, due to the usually inaccessible oil wells, State Department staff must walk to identify and close them, which is an incredibly slow and inefficient process even for a small area.

Long before satellites and GPS were invented, locations were captured on rough, hand-drawn maps that were often inaccurate. Sometimes these maps underestimate the location of the wells or indicate wells that have not been drilled in the end. But there are places that are not documented on the maps, therefore, it is impossible to understand where the well is located.

To find the abandoned wells, the researchers equipped the drone with a magnetometer that can detect magnetic anomalies in the metal cases of the wells, determining their location.

But before the technology could be fully deployed, scientists first needed to do a few small tests to make sure the process worked as intended. For example, each drone has a unique magnetic and electromagnetic interference signal that must be compensated for.

Scientists tested the technology as a way to detect unexploded ordnance in Ukraine and used advanced signal processing techniques to determine the optimal parameters needed to increase the signal-to-noise ratio. In previous experiments, they also checked the flight height above the crown of the tree.

Finally, they tested a good detection drone in a site in Cattaragus County, where 11 wells had previously been mapped. It worked: in just three hours, they discovered 72 more wells. In the long term, scientists plan to apply this strategy to find abandoned wells, which the national agency will then close.