Geophysical methods for locating abandoned wells

Open-File Report 83-702

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A preliminary study of the feasibility of using geophysical exploration methods to locate abandoned wells containing steel casing indicated that magnetic methods promise to be effective and that some electrical techniques might be useful as auxiliary methods. Ground magnetic measurements made in the vicinity of several known cased wells yielded total field anomalies with peak values ranging from about 1,500 to 6,000 gammas. The anomalies measured on the ground are very narrow and, considering noise due to other cultural and geologic sources, a line spacing on the order of 50 feet (15.2 m) would be necessary to locate all casings in the test area. The mathematical model used to represent a casing was a set of magnetic pole pairs. By use of a non-linear least squares curve fitting (inversion) program, model parameters which characterize each test casing were determined. The position and strength of the uppermost pole was usually well resolved. The parameters of lower poles were not as well resolved but it appears that the results are adequate for predicting the anomalies which would be observed at aircraft altitudes. Modeling based on the parameters determined from the ground data indicates that all of the test casings could be detected by airborne measurements made at heights of 150 to 200 feet (45.7-61.0 m) above the ground, provided lines spaced as closely as 330 feet (100 m) were used and provided noise due to other cultural and geologic sources is not very large. Given the noise levels of currently available equipment and assuming very low magnetic gradients due to geologic sources, the detection range for total field measurements is greater than that for measurements of the horizontal or vertical gradient of the total intensity. Electrical self-potential anomalies were found to be associated with most of the casings where measurements were made. However, the anomalies tend to be very narrow and, in several cases, they are comparable in magnitude to other small anomalies which are not directly associated with casings. Measurements made with a terrain conductivity meter and slingram system were negative. However, from other work it is known that electrical resistivity and induced polarization measurements can be influenced significantly by the presence of a casing. It is concluded that detailed ground magnetic surveys would be effective in locating casings within relatively small areas. It would be very costly to cover large areas with ground surveys but it appears that airborne surveys may be a cost-effective means of locating wells when the search area is on the order of a few square miles or more. Also, airborne methods could be used in some areas where access to the area on the ground is difficult or impossible.

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Geophysical methods for locating abandoned wells
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey,
ii, 211 p. chiefly ill., maps ;28 cm.