Occurrence and fate of methane leakage from cut and buried abandoned gas wells in the Netherlands

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Abstract

Methane leakage caused by well integrity failure was assessed at 28 abandoned gas wells and 1 oil well in the Netherlands, which have been plugged, cut and buried to below the ground surface (≥3 mbgl). At each location, methane concentrations were thoroughly scanned at the surface. A static chamber setup was used to measure methane flow rates from the surface as well as from 1 m deep holes drilled using a hand auger. An anomalously high flow rate from 1 m depth combined with isotopic confirmation of a thermogenic origin revealed ongoing leakage at 1 of the 29 wells (3.4%), that had gone undetected by surficial measurements. Gas fluxes at the other sites were due to shallow production of biogenic methane. Detailed investigation at the leaking well (MON-02), consisting of 28 flux measurements conducted in a 2 × 2 m grid from holes drilled to 1 and 2 m depth, showed that flux magnitude was spatially heterogeneous and consistently larger at 2 m depth compared to 1 m. Isotopic evidence revealed oxidation accounted for roughly 25% of the decrease in flux towards the surface. The estimated total flux from the well (443 g CH 4 hr −1 ) was calculated by extrapolation of the individual flow rate measurements at 2 m depth and should be considered an indicative value as the validity of the estimate using our approach requires confirmation by modelling and/or experimental studies. Together, our findings show that total methane emissions from leaking gas wells in the Netherlands are likely negligible compared to other sources of anthropogenic methane emissions (e.g. <1% of emissions from the Dutch energy sector). Furthermore, subsurface measurements greatly improve the likelihood of detecting leakage at buried abandoned wells and are therefore essential to accurately assess their greenhouse gas emissions and explosion hazards.

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Schout, G., Griffioen, J., Hassanizadeh, S. M., Cardon de Lichtbuer, G., & Hartog, N. (2019). Occurrence and fate of methane leakage from cut and buried abandoned gas wells in the Netherlands. Science of the Total Environment, 659, 773–782. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.12.339

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