EGU General Assembly 2020
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the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Methane emissions from abandoned offshore wells– First data from a 2019 research cruise to the Dogger Bank, German North Sea

Martin Blumenberg1, Stefan Schlömer1, Miriam Römer2, Katja Heeschen3, Hendrik Müller1, Udo Barckhausen1, Simon Müller1, and Katrin Schwalenberg1
Martin Blumenberg et al.
  • 1Federal institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, Hannover, Germany (
  • 2MARUM Research Faculty, Bremen, Germany
  • 3GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany

Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas and, considering a period of 100 years, has a more than 30 times higher “global warming potential” than carbon dioxide. Emissions from the production, storage, distribution and use of fossil energy resources in recent years sum up to about 15 % of global methane emissions with numbers still being under discussion and topic of numerous research programs.

Abandoned oil and gas wells are one of the sources of methane from the oil and gas sector. Recent studies found escaping methane at selected abandoned drill holes in the central North Sea. Assuming this would hold for one third of the ~11.000 wells in the region, the process would introduce significant amounts of methane at shallow water depth. Interestingly, the collected methane was of biogenic rather than thermogenic origin, potentially escaping from shallow gas pockets. Likely, this methane was mobilized by mechanical disturbance of the sediments through the drilling operation and the well section has served as a pathway thereafter. However, little is known about the number of wells affected and the relevance for the amounts of methane realeased.

During a research cruise with the German research vessel Heincke in July, 2019, we studied seafloor characteristics, water column anomalies and sediment methane geochemistry and further inspected visually nine abandoned well sites at ~40 m water depth in the German sector of the central North Sea (Dogger Bank). The cruise targeted different situations, including known seeps in the Dutch part of the Dogger Bank, well sites of different ages and an area where abandoned wells penetrate shallow gas pockets. First data demonstrate that at none of the studied sites concentrations of dissolved methane were enriched in the upper water column. For most sites, sediment and deep water methane data demonstrate concentrations in the range known as background for that area (i.e., deep water methane close to ~ 10 nM). At one site with high indications for the presence of shallow gas pockets, we observed methane abundances several times enriched compared to background. However, the enrichments also occurred 500 m away from the drill site and did not increase towards the center. Based on our data we argue for an active natural seep situation rather than a leaking well and underline that natural seeps may challenge the identification of potentially leaking wells.

How to cite: Blumenberg, M., Schlömer, S., Römer, M., Heeschen, K., Müller, H., Barckhausen, U., Müller, S., and Schwalenberg, K.: Methane emissions from abandoned offshore wells– First data from a 2019 research cruise to the Dogger Bank, German North Sea, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-6792,, 2020.


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