Shared Traits of Abandoned Gas, Oil Wells Could Aid Cheaper, More Effective Cleanup

John Sullivan, Office of Engineering Communications ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Across the United States, abandoned oil and gas wells are a significant source of greenhouse gases, particularly methane. Yet there are so many scattered across the country that stopping the leaks — and even determining which wells are leaking — presents an enormous challenge.

Now, scientists from Princeton, Stanford and Ohio State universities, as well as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have identified the specific attributes of abandoned wells that leak significant amounts of methane, which could help state governments prioritize which wells to repair. By focusing on high-emitting abandoned wells and leaving non-emitting wells alone, it should be possible for states to eliminate the majority of greenhouse gas emissions from deserted bores while still controlling costs, the researchers said.

“The most effective solution to stopping the release of greenhouse gases from abandoned wells is to focus on the highest-emitting wells,” said Michael Celia, Princeton’s Theodora Shelton Pitney Professor of Environmental Studies and a professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Using our findings, states can apply their resources where it will make the greatest difference.”