ABB’s emissions monitoring technology, which is typically used for gas leak detection by oil and gas companies and natural gas utilities, is now employed to identify and monitor orphan wells in the United States.
Orphan wells are oil or gas wells that have been deactivated and no longer have legal owners responsible for their care. Due to their age and deteriorated condition, the wells can leak methane and other harmful greenhouse gases through their “plugs”.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that methane emissions from over 2 million inactive, unplugged wells, of which orphan wells are a subset, range from a CO2 equivalent of 7 to 20 million metric tons per year (approximately the emissions of 2 to 5 million cars). Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere, according to the Environment Defense Fund.
Many wells are situated on farmland, and could contaminate land, air and water, potentially harming ecosystems, wildlife, livestock, and people.
In some parts of the United States where towns are growing, housing has been built where oil and gas wells once stood. The Environment Defense Fund estimates that 14 million Americans live within a mile of an orphan well.
With the help of ABB technology, organizations such as The Well Done Foundation, the nonprofit that works to plug orphan oil and gas wells in the US, can detect leaking wells and, once the wells are capped, continue to monitor the sites to ensure they no longer emit harmful greenhouse gases.
“Our work on this initiative is a great example of how technology can benefit the environment and help countries achieve their sustainability goals,” says Jacques Mulbert, Division President, ABB Measurement & Analytics.