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Study: Abandoned Oil Wells Leak Methane

July 17th, 2014

A Princeton University study of thousands of abandoned oil wells and natural gas wells in Pennsylvania may be leaking methane. The study examined 19 wells across the state and found that these neglected wells leaked varied quantities of methane, despite being plugged and shut down. The findings indicate that abandoned oil wells across the country could be more significant sources of greenhouse gases than previously believed, since many of them remain unmonitored after they cease operations.

Abandoned Oil Wells Alter Climate Change Debate

The findings about the methane leaks in abandoned oil wells could alter how environmental agencies measure greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not count the thousands of abandoned oil wells across the country in its estimates of methane emissions. The Princeton study projected the amount of methane emitted from these wells across the state. Based on the small sample size, the study found that the wells could account for up to 13 percent of all the human-based methane emissions in the state.

Abandoned Oil Wells and the Danger of Methane

The study of the abandoned oil wells focused the efforts of climate change advocates on the dangers of methane. Climate scientists estimate that methane emissions are responsible for up to 40 percent of the greenhouse gas effect, which traps the sun’s heat within Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists also believe that methane poses more of a climate change threat than carbon dioxide, as methane’s chemical composition makes it dozens of times more effective at trapping heat.

More Study Needed on Abandoned Oil Wells

Professor Mary Kang, the scientist who authored the study on Pennsylvania’s abandoned oil wells, believes that the state’s focus on fluid leaks rather than gas leaks has allowed the problem of methane leaks to go unchecked. Professor Kang also stated that the lack of monitoring of abandoned oil wells has also contributed to the issue. She called for wider studies in both Pennsylvania, which has between 250,000 and 1 million abandoned oil fields, and other states which have a high number of abandoned oil wells.

Source: ClimateCentral.org

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