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March 31, 2022

Next week, the USGS will bring its expertise to the table at a workshop where regulators, researchers and key stakeholders will explore challenges to finding and characterizing oil and gas wells abandoned by fossil-fuel extraction industries.

The Undocumented Orphaned Wells Workshop is being hosted by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission as part of a larger effort to accelerate oilfield remediation. The long-term goal is to support ideas and solutions to shape the future of research and technology development to mitigate methane and other greenhouse-gas emissions from undocumented orphaned wells.

The free, virtual workshop will be held April 5, 2022, from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. EST. 

“Locating orphaned wells is a familiar problem to geoscientists,” said Sarah Ryker, associate director for energy and mineral resources at the USGS. “The USGS helped pioneer the use of airborne magnetic surveys to identify orphaned well locations as research sites, and our scientists have explored the emissions and environmental risks associated with leaking wells.”

This workshop is part of a research consortium convened by the Department of Energy with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to determine the physical locations, methane emissions, wellbore integrity, and other environmental impacts of those wells. Once identified, the wells may become candidates for remediation under the Department of the Interior’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to accelerate plugging orphaned wells. 

“We are excited to bring our geoscience to this collaboration as a bridge between the Department of the Interior’s plans to accelerate oilfield remediation and the Department of Energy’s technology investments,” said Ryker.

Estimates suggest between 310,000 to 800,000 orphaned wells in the United States remain undocumented. Efforts to plug these wells are hampered by the lack of documentation on their precise locations, ownership and construction history.

The USGS has studied orphaned wells for research topics ranging from groundwater to geothermal resources. Identifying undocumented orphaned wells through airborne or ground magnetic surveys was an early breakthrough. Carefully designed ground-magnetic or aeromagnetic surveys can be used to locate abandoned wells by mapping the magnetic disturbances or "anomalies" produced by their steel well casings.

More information about the workshop can be found here.