40 Percent of Fracked Wells Projected to Fail, Says Study

The study indicates that leaks of methane could be a problem for drilling across the nation.

Photo Credit: Calin Tatu

A recent study by Cornell University has found that newer and unconventional natural gas wells leak methane at a greater rate than older and traditional ones. The study was based on inspections of more than 75,000 wells in Pennsylvania over the past 14 years. 
The inspection reports indicate that leaks of methane could be a problem for drilling across the nation.  The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the study on Monday.
The report indicates that older wells (those drilled before the 2009 fracking boom) leaked at a rate near 1%. Newer wells (those drilled after 2009) had a leak rate of about 2%. Unconventional wells had a failure rate of about 6%. Moreover, the leak rate was nearly 10% for horizontal wells drilled before 2010. 
The study states: 

About 40 percent of the oil and gas wells in parts of the Marcellus shale region will probably be leaking methane into the groundwater or into the atmosphere…. This study shows up to a 2.7-fold higher risk for unconventional wells — relative to conventional wells — drilled since 2009.

The researchers indicated that they did not know the size of the leaks and did not know the causes, although they did speculate that it could be because corners are being cut as fracking booms. 
Energy industry officials claim that what was measured was not actual leaks, but gas pressure build up, and the two are not necessarily related. Moreover, Marcellus Shale Coalition spokesperson Travis Windle says that the study's author, engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea is “playing fast and loose with the facts.”
But Ingraffea, who also is part of a group that has criticized hydrofracking, is sticking by the study's findings. 
"Something is coming out of it that shouldn't, in a place that it shouldn't," he said.
The Cornell study comes only a few weeks after researchers at Princeton University found that methane emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells appear to be a significant source of methane emissions to the atmosphere. 

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.


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