Identification of High Methane-Emitting Abandoned Wells in Pennsylvania

2015 New Investigator Award

Award Period: 2015-2017

Recent measurements have shown that abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania are leaking methane to the atmosphere. The total amount being leaked may be up to 10 percent of the total anthropogenic emissions for the state. No methane-emissions inventory currently includes this newly discovered source of methane. Only a few wells, approximately 15 percent, account for almost all of the emissions. To date we have no way to identify these “high emitters.” Recent analysis of leakage data appear to indicate that gas wells leak more than oil wells. There also is an indication that subsurface seasonal storage of natural gas may contribute to higher leakage rates. We propose a combined measurement and modeling study to test specific hypotheses about the cause of high-emitting wells. If we can successfully identify which wells are likely to be high emitters then a much more targeted remediation plan can be put in place to reduce emissions with minimal effort and cost. The proposal has both a research and an educational component.

Former CEE students Mary Kang ’14 and Alana Miller ’15 taking measurements of well leakage rates in Pennsylvania (photo taken by Rob Jackson, Stanford University).


Educational Impacts

Field-measurement campaigns will emphasize undergraduate involvement in field measurements as well as the subsequent laboratory analysis of samples, and then analysis of the resulting data. We will recruit undergraduates to work on this project for their junior independent work and senior thesis. Additional undergraduate involvement will come from the inclusion of one or two lectures on methane and methane leakage in the undergraduate course “Practical Models for Environmental Systems” (ENV 302). This will be a new addition to the course and will be presented in the context of either the overall methane problem and how it fits into climate change; or a broad discussion of the environmental impacts of the oil and gas industry, and how legacy issues such as leaking old wells can be overlooked though are nonetheless important.

Professors Celia and Mauzerall, with Mary Kang ’14, at an abandoned well in Pennsylvania (photo taken by M Celia).


Participating Department

Collaborating Institutions

Related Media and Press Coverage


Theodora Shelton Pitney Professor of Environmental Studies. Director, Princeton Environmental Institute.
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Public and International Affairs

Research Associates

Graduate Students

  • Bo Guo

Undergraduate Students

  • Shanna Christian, Class of 2016
  • Christy Kaiser, Class of 2017