LiDAR Technology

LiDAR Technology Enables the Location of Historic Energy Production Sites 

Understanding the impact that newly developed novel methods for extracting resources from the Earth has on our environment is important, but this requires baseline data against which potential changes can be measured. In Pennsylvania, as in other parts of the United States, commercial activity has already left environmental impacts that are not readily discernible.

Charcoal from a completed burn (image courtesy PA DCNR – Greenwood Furnace State Park). 

An estimated 100,000 abandoned oil and gas wells exist in the United States. Abandoned wells provide potential pathways for methane gas to seep to the surface, where it can trigger explosions, contaminate water supplies, or impact a modern drilling operation. To avoid this, we must characterize future energy production sites. In the past, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has successfully used airborne magnetometry to locate abandoned wells.

Another method that may be used to locate abandoned wells is LiDAR, an optical remote sensing technology that can measure the distance to a target via illuminating the target with laser light and analyzing the backscatter. The technology utilizes a narrow laser beam (of ultraviolet, visible, or near infrared light) to create an incredibly high-resolution map of physical features. The data collected using LiDAR can be used to form digital elevation models, detailed topographic maps of the Earth’s surface in open fields and under dense tree canopy. These maps, enhanced through other cartographic techniques, provide an overview of broad, continuous features that may be indistinguishable on the ground. 

Constructed wood pile ready to burn for charcoal (image courtesy PA DCNR – Greenwood Furnace State Park). 

Now, NETL scientists believe that detailed topography could be useful in locating historic oil and gas wells in areas of new gas development in the Marcellus shale. A convenient test area to determine the relative sensitivity of LiDAR data sets was needed. After selecting potential sites, data from the Pennsylvania LiDAR data acquisition program was processed in geographic information system (GIS) software to identify historic energy production sites that are now difficult to locate due to past land use or revegetation. The Greenwood Furnace, a region that produced charcoal between 1834 and 1904, was selected. Charcoal, at that time, was produced in small, flat, cleared areas called hearths. Through the use of LiDAR technology, more than 500 historic charcoal hearths could be identified in a 40-square-mile area surrounding Greenwood Furnace. 

LiDAR shaded relief image at Green Furnace State Park, Pennsylvania, showing locations of historic charcoal hearths.

NETL used the information collected to refine the LiDAR data processing technique designed to enhance the image quality. This computer model could then be applied to those areas under development in the Marcellus shale to look for the footprint of previous wells. In areas that are continually disturbed by agriculture, surface mining, or urban development, these features may not be visible using LiDAR. Knowing the exact location of these old wells will be important during future preparation and production of unconventional gas wells drilled in the Marcellus shale. 


StayConnected Facebook Twitter LinkedIn RssFeed YouTube