We studied the problem of determining accurately the location of abandoned and sometimes undocumented wells and the challenging and increasingly important task related to subsurface reservoir integrity and regional economic development. We reviewed a variety of semiquantitative methods based on geophysical workflows, and we tested these with airborne magnetic data collected at two field sites. Our main conclusion is that airborne magnetic surveys represent a high-value tool to aid in the accurate determination of abandoned well locations and characteristics. At one site, two surveys were collected at slightly different altitudes to compare workflow robustness and allow the observed vertical magnetic gradient to be included in well detection workflows. We also investigated using focal zone anomaly statistics (using the magnetic field intensity and its first and second horizontal derivatives), analytic signal, tilt derivative, and calculated vertical gradient. In addition, we used a 3D inversion of a small subset of data to investigate the successful recovery of well-related magnetic susceptibility distribution and estimate subsurface well topology. The recovered magnetic susceptibility volume showed distinctive vertically elongated objects that correspond to known wells. Maximum likelihood estimation and confidence calculations were then applied to these data sets and indicated that high-confidence well locations could be determined and characterized using such airborne total magnetic data.

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