Energy, methane and orphaned wells
(Photo by Hillebrand Steve, USFWS on Pixnio)

Energy, methane and orphaned wells

Abandoned and stranded fossil fuel assets need to be considered.

Summary: US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland issued a Secretary's Order to establish an Orphaned Wells Program Office to ensure effective, accountable and efficient implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It includes a US$4.7 billion investment to plug orphaned wells.

Why this is important: Methane is a powerful Greenhouse gas and accounts for approximately 20% of global emissions. It is more potent than CO2 at trapping heat, the quantum of which depends on the time horizon that one is looking at. Over a 100 year period (the Paris rulebook timeframe) methane is 29x more potent; over a 20 year time period it is 82x more potent given the shorter lifespan of methane in the atmosphere. So, reducing methane emissions is a big deal.

The big theme: If we are to reduce O&G usage, there will be a whole series of costs we as a society may need to face. Some are to do with compensation for stranded assets (an unpopular topic) and some are to do with cleaning up the existing infrastructure. This is a theme that could get material and run for many decades.

The details

Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US is leading a consortium to find abandoned orphaned oil and natural gas wells. Orphaned wells are wells that were never documented on public records and essentially abandoned by their legal owners. Information about ownership and construction has been lost, as has responsibility for methane emissions. The goal of the consortium is to then prioritize these wells for plugging and remediation.

The bipartisan Infrastructure Bill provides US$30m funding through the US Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management for this work. There is a five-year time horizon for establishing a framework, developing and testing new technologies, and ultimately deploying those in the field. It is expected that the consortium will rely on drones, lightweight sensors, geophysical techniques and Machine Learning. A workshop to kick things off took place in April 2022.

(Source: Environmental Defense Fund and McGill University; Cartography by Nick Trotter Maps and Alan Buckman/Nothcode Creative)

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