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Researchers develop leak alarm for decommissioned wells

A team of researchers based in Scotland have developed a new way to protect against oil leaks from decommissioned wells.

With some 2,379 North Sea wells likely to be decommissioned in the coming decade, the new technique may help safeguard against capped wells springing leaks.

Oil companies like ExxonMobil, the oil major that also produces lubrication products like Mobil Unirex N3, have been active in the North Sea since the 1960s. Despite efforts to extend the lifetime of many wells with new techniques and technology, they ultimately need to be decommissioned once they become uneconomical. In addition to removing the oilrig on the surface, the well also needs to be securely sealed to prevent the remaining oil from leaking out.

The new technique involves adding an ingredient called SWIFT to the kill fluid, which is the fluid that operators use to fill up the hole before capping the well with concrete. While this is intended to seal the well forever, if a leak does occur, a detector above the well will detect the SWIFT ingredient.

Professor David Bucknall, who leads the team that developed the ingredient, explained the next steps:

“At that point the detector releases a buoy, and the buoy pings up to the satellite network and tells the controllers not only where it is but which well they have to go and look at and fix.”

With any leaks being addressed in a timely fashion, the new system should reduce the amount of oil leaked into the environment.

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