Measuring methane emissions from abandoned and active oil and gas wells in West Virginia

Stuart N. Riddick, Denise Leonore Mauzerall, Michael Anthony Celia, Mary Kang, Kara Bressler, Christopher Chu, Caleb D. Gum

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54 Scopus citations


Recent studies have reported methane (CH4) emissions from abandoned and active oil and gas infrastructure across the United States, where measured emissions show regional variability. To investigate similar phenomena in West Virginia, we measure and characterize emissions from abandoned and active conventional oil and gas wells. In addition, we reconcile divergent regional CH4 emissions estimates by comparing our West Virginia emissions estimates with those from other states in the United States. We find the CH4 emission factors from 112 plugged and 147 unplugged wells in West Virginia are 0.1 g CH4 h−1 and 3.2 g CH4 h−1, respectively. The highest emitting unplugged abandoned wells in WV are those most recently abandoned, with the mean emission of wells abandoned between 1993 and 2015 of 16 g CH4 h−1 compared to the mean of those abandoned before 1993 of 3 × 10−3 g CH4 h−1. Using field observations at a historic mining area as a proxy for state-wide drilling activity in the late 19th/early 20th century, we estimate the number of abandoned wells in WV at between 60,000 and 760,000 wells. Methane emission factors from active conventional wells were estimated at 138 g CH4 h−1. We did not find an emission pattern relating to age of wells or operator for active wells, however, the CH4 emission factor for active conventional wells was 7.5 times larger than the emission factor used by the EPA for conventional oil and gas wells. Our results suggest that well emission factors for active and abandoned wells can vary within the same geologic formation and may be affected by differences in state regulations. Therefore, accounting for state-level variations is critical for accuracy in greenhouse gas emissions inventories, which are used to guide emissions reduction strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1849-1856
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Feb 15 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


  • Emission factor
  • Methane
  • Oil and gas wells
  • State-level variation


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