New York using drones to search for abandoned, leaking gas wells


DEC staff demonstrated the drones it will use as part of the well-plugging program at Binghamton University. (Vaughn Golden/WSKG)

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — New York’s environmental agency is deploying drones to detect and ultimately plug abandoned gas wells that are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions around the state.

Beginning in earnest this summer, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is going to start using drones to fly high-powered magnetometers over remote areas like forests, with the goal of locating decades-old natural gas. Many wells were abandoned over the last century and are difficult to find and properly plug.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said using drones is a faster and more efficient way to locate and plug the wells than canvassing tough terrain on foot.

“We generate a map. It’s effectively a modern-day treasure map to detect a significant source of greenhouse gasses to fix this global problem that we’re all involved with, which is climate change,” Seggos said.

The primary gas emitted by old wells is methane. While methane doesn’t make up a large share of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s more harmful than carbon and other more common pollutants.

The commissioner said he hopes to demonstrate a proof-of-concept this year, with the hopes it could be expanded and adopted by other states with a history of gas drilling, like Pennsylvania.