Cornell researchers just published an interesting paper with a dull sounding title: Assessment and risk analysis of casing and cement impairment in oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, 2000–2012. In other words, how often does well structural integrity fail, potentially allowing methane to escape from its
ass annulus into groundwater or the atmosphere?
The researchers catalogued incident reports filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. This is publicly available data so the analyses are easily replicated.
Pennsylvania state inspection records show compromised cement and/or casing integrity in 0.7–9.1% of the active oil and gas wells drilled since 2000, with a 1.6- to 2.7-fold higher risk in unconventional wells spudded since 2009 relative to conventional well types. Hazard modeling suggests that the cumulative loss of structural integrity in wells across the state may actually be slightly higher than this, and upward of 12% for unconventional wells drilled since January 2009. This wide range of estimates is influenced by significantly higher rates of impairment in wells spudded in the NE counties of the state (average of 12.5%, range: 2.2–50%), with predicted cumulative hazards exceeding 40% (Figs. 5 and 6).They found that unconventional wells (horizontally fractured) drilled after 2009 had a failure rate of 12%. That means methane escaping from sloppy drilling practices during the great fracking boom may be much worse than feared.
Is this failure cluster a canary in the proverbial gas mine or just a hangover from the hands-off enforcement policy of the Corbett administration? Answering that question will require more data.
This study presents the state of structural integrity loss in oil and gas wells over a 13-y period in the state of Pennsylvania as inferred from publicly available data, while also presenting a risk assessment model of future performance. It should be a priority to update and validate this model with well monitoring and evaluation data reported to the PADEP from the industry as they are collected. Finally, although this study discusses one possible primary mechanism of methane migration to groundwater aquifers and fugitive emissions to the atmosphere, more studies are needed to investigate the association between the structural integrity loss in oil and gas wells and tthese unwanted events.
These data contradict claims by the drilling industry that horizontal fracturing is "safe." In the real world, the failure rate in these Pennsylvania wells has been unacceptably high, especially in the northeast quadrant of the state that has been the epicenter of the shale gas boom.
Cementing operations have long been known as the achilles heel of shale drilling operations. Lax regulations and financial incentives to cut corners have surprisingly led to many preventable catastrophes. The data from Pennsylvania indicate that sloppy cementing is far too common in an industry that prioritizes production over safety.
The Associated Press was kind enough to round up a few industry lobbyists to comment on the study.
Here is some run-of-the-mill ad hominem directed at Anthony Ingraffea, the lead author of the study.
The research was criticized by the energy industry. Marcellus Shale Coalition spokesman Travis Windle said it reflects Ingraffea's "clear pattern of playing fast and loose with the facts."Playing loose with the facts? Did I mention that the data are from publicly available sources and the analyses are easy to replicate? The record of well failure in Pennsylvania since the shale gas boom began is disgraceful.
Chris Tucker from the industry astroturf organization Energy in Depth also weighed in.
Chris Tucker, spokesman for industry-supported group Energy In Depth, said what they measured may not be leaks but state inspectors detecting pressure buildup.Since the state did not measure methane migration, the extent of methane leaking from well structural failures is unknown and the industry should be presumed blameless. It is perverse logic. The failure rate of horizontally fractured wells in Pennsylvania over the past 5 years is a disgrace. The question is not whether methane escaped from these structural failures but rather how much.
"The trick these researchers are pulling here is conflating pressure with leakage, trying to convince folks that the mere existence of the former is evidence of the latter," Tucker wrote in an email.
Tucker is quite a character. A few years ago, he even encouraged public relations firms to study military counter-insurgency manuals in dealing with drilling opponents. Apparently it was only "a joke."
Chris Tucker, the spokesperson for Energy in Depth (EID) defended the statement by saying it was meant only as a joke, and that "there are no black helicopters here. ... We go to township meetings, and we hear what people have to say."Reality has been unkind to the industry lately. Just last week a study published in the prestigious journal Science found more evidence that injecting fracking waste water into underground wells is associated with earthquake swarms. Much of the increased seismic activity was traced to a small number of high volume wastewater injection wells. It is part of a larger trend linking increased seismic activity to wastewater injection wells.
But Tucker is heavily involved in the "counterinsurgency," working for one of the industry's many tentacles of its spin campaign. EID is a Washington-based, industry-funded front group that attacks people concerned about the dangers of fracking and the cocktail of toxic substances being used in the drilling processes. A report released last month by Common Cause notes that the fracking industry gave $20.5 million to current members of Congress and has spent at least $700 million on lobbying over the past decade. It has also spent an untold sum on PR campaigns targeting the public.
At least the fracking industry has a sense of humor. They just released a new "good neighbor" policy. It is not about better cementing and safety procedures. That would be inconvenient. The key is better "community engagement." In other words, the industry should lie through their fucking teeth to keep the pesky public at bay.