GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 222-9
Presentation Time: 3:30 PM


MEGHANI, Nooreen A., Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, The Pennsylvania State University, 318B EES Building, University Park, PA 16802 and WENDT, Anna K., Department of Geosciences, The Pennsylvania State University, 318B EES Building, University Park, PA 16802,

Legacy oil and gas infrastructure is a significant contributor to methane emissions in Pennsylvania. Orphan and Abandoned wells (OAWs), typically unplugged or with failed plugs, provide conduits for methane, ethane, and other substances between rock layers and to the surface. Estimates of the number of OAWs in PA range from as low as 200,000 to higher than 400,000; however, fewer than 15,000 of these have been located in any fashion and less than 4,000 have had locations confirmed in the field by the government organizations typically responsible for plugging such wells.

In an effort to find these wells, the Orphan and Abandoned Well program at Penn State educates citizen volunteers to find and document OAWs. We have created an online database dedicated to OAW locations, both suspected and confirmed, which serves as both a community-owned data repository and as a resource for new volunteers. We have worked with three separate community organizations to bring their OAW location data to this single repository, adding over 100 citizen-located wells to our database that don’t currently appear in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s records. In addition, we have engaged with related Citizen Science programs like the Shale Network in order to link well locations with methane concentrations in nearby streams and rivers. Whenever possible this information is also included in the database.

We have recruited new citizen science volunteers, worked with the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a reporting methodology for volunteers, led educational workshops and field trips, and located more than 30 previously unknown OAWs. Results from in situ methane detection and stream sampling with the Shale Network implicate several OAWs as high methane emitters, with concentrations >30 ppb in water, and >640 ppm in the air. This data, collected by volunteers, is critical to prioritizing wells for plugging, particularly given the scale and complexity of this legacy issue.