New York State is showing off new drone technology aimed at finding abandoned oil and gas wells that may be hidden throughout the Southern Tier.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos was joined by DEC and NYSERDA officials this week at Binghamton University to demonstrate the technology.

The gas-powered drone carries a suspended magnetometer that can detect metal well heads that may have become obscured from view.

B-U Geophysics and Remote Sensing Laboratory Director Timothy de Smet and Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences and Environmental Studies Alex Nikulin helped to develop the drone technology and have already tested it in western portions of the Southern Tier.

New York was an early leader in oil and natural gas exploration in the 1800’s.

Seggos says the DEC estimates there are more than 20 thousand abandoned wells in New York that could be leaking methane gas, a dangerous greenhouse gas.

“You think of the oil and gas industry as something that began in Titusville, Pennsylvania, as you learn as a kid, back in the 1800’s. Or Texas, or the western states. But New York really had a significant footprint in the early days of the oil and gas industry,” says Seggos.

Seggos says that methane emissions represent almost 10 percent of the state’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

He says many of the orphaned wells don’t appear on old maps.

The DEC is concentrating first on the Southern Tier where the majority of early oil and gas exploration occurred.