Methane emissions from abandoned coal and oil and gas developments in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia

  • James P. WilliamsEmail author
  • David Risk
  • Alexander Marshall
  • Nick Nickerson
  • Alexandra Martell
  • Chance Creelman
  • Mitchell Grace
  • Grant Wach


Energy reserves have been exploited in the Atlantic Canadian provinces since the early 1600s, and many fossil fuel extraction sites have been abandoned over this long history of energy development. Oil, natural gas, and coal extraction sites are a source of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly for methane (CH4). In this study, we used multiple sampling methods to measure CH4 from abandoned coal mine openings in Nova Scotia and a legacy oilfield in New Brunswick. Atmospheric and shallow soil gases were sampled around legacy sites using flux rate chamber measurements (spatial and temporal) and plot-scale atmospheric gas surveys, in addition to regional gas screening surveys over larger populations of sites to confirm whether small-scale observations were reflected regionally. Only one oil and gas site (2.4 ± 3.1⋅ 102 mg m− 2 day− 1) and one abandoned coal mine opening (1.0 ± 1.1⋅ 102 mg m− 2 day− 1) were affected by soil CH4 migration, though rates of leakage were minimal and would rank as low severity on industrial scales. Plot-scale atmospheric gas screening showed super-ambient CH4 concentrations at 5 sites in total (n = 16), 2 coal adits and 3 abandoned oil and gas wells. Regional gas screening surveys suggest that 11% of legacy oil and gas sites have some emission impacts, compared with 1–2% of legacy coal sites. These frequencies are close, albeit lower than the 15% of legacy oil and gas sites and 10% of abandoned coal mine openings flagged from our aggregated small-scale observations. These sites may emit less than other developments studied to date either because more time has elapsed since extraction, or because differences in regional geology reduce the likelihood of sustained emissions. This study provides valuable information to help understand the methane emission risks associated with legacy energy sites.


Methane emissions Geochemical analysis Abandoned fossil fuel sites Soil gas flux Atmospheric gas sampling 



I would like to acknowledge Siobhan Semadeni for revising this manuscript as well as other works of mine throughout the years.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth Science, FluxLabSt. Francis Xavier UniversityAntigonishCanada
  2. 2.Eosense IncDartmouthCanada
  3. 3.Department of Earth ScienceUniversity of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada
  4. 4.Department of Earth ScienceDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada

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