Subsurface natural gas release from leaking oil and gas wells is a major environmental concern. Gas migration can cause aquifer contamination, explosive conditions in soil gas, and greenhouse gas emissions. Gas migration is controlled by complex interacting processes, thus constraining the distribution and magnitude of "fugitive gas" emissions remains a challenge. We simulated wellbore leakage in the vadose zone through a controlled release experiment and demonstrate that fugitive gas emissions can be directly influenced by barometric pressure changes. Decreases in barometric-pressure led to surface gas breakthroughs (>20-fold increase in <24 hours), even in the presence of low-permeability surficial soils. Current monitoring strategies do not consider the effect of barometric pressure changes on gas migration and may not provide adequate estimates of fugitive gas emissions. Frequent or continuous monitoring is needed to accurately detect and quantify fugitive gas emissions at oil and gas sites with a deep water table.
ASJC Scopus subject areas