Drone Aeromagnetics: A New Method for Locating Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells
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At least 70,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in New York State since the 1800s, but locations for nearly 40,000 of them remain unknown. Such wells are considered to be abandoned and can act as conduits for the contamination of groundwater supplies by oil, gas, brines and other pollutants. Over time, the casings of abandoned wells eventually develop leaks, which, if not properly plugged, can allow pollutants to reach freshwater aquifers that supply drinking water. The goal with this study was to test that an airborne magnetometer carried by a drone could be used to locate abandoned wells. Carefully designed ground magnetic and aeromagnetic surveys using a potassium vapor magnetometer and VectorNav-200 sensor located wells by mapping the magnetic disturbances or anomalies produced by their steel casings. Latitude and longitude coordinates of the wells were recorded using the magnetometer’s integrated GPS system, while data processing using GEM Systems Software, Oasis Montaj, MATLAB, and ArcGIS were used to analyze and generate maps of the magnetic field data that was acquired. Additionally, two-dimensional well model development showed how casing depth, susceptibility, and the presence of water affects the amplitude of the magnetic signal recorded at the surface. In all, magnetic drone surveys using the VectorNav-200 sensor were successful in detecting anomalies attributed to well casing, and low-level drone surveying using this sensor can be included as a new method for helping to detect the location of abandoned wells.