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Study: Fracking Tied to Leaky Natural Gas Wells

July 2nd, 2014

A recent study of natural gas wells in Pennsylvania published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that those that use unconventional drilling techniques leak up to ten times more often than conventional wells. Some of these unorthodox methods, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (better known as “fracking”), lead to natural gas wells that leak up to ten percent of the time, compared to conventional wells that have leak rates of one percent or less.

Natural Gas Wells Drilled After 2009 Showed More Leaks

The study examined more than 75,000 inspection reports of Pennsylvania natural gas wells since 2000. The study found that natural gas wells drilled prior to 2009 had a lead rate of about one percent. Most of these natural gas wells drilled straight down into the subsurface to extract the natural gas. The reports showed that wells drilled after 2009 had an average leak rate of about two percent. The rate for horizontal and other unconventional wells, most of which were drilled after 2006, was close to six percent. Natural gas wells in the northeastern part of the state, a region known for heavy drilling and unconventional methods, showed a leak rate of nearly 10 percent.

Unconventional Natural Gas Wells Could Cause Environmental Damage

Lead study author Anthony Ingraffea, an engineering professor at Cornell University, suggested that methods such as horizontal drilling and fracking could cause environmental damage, especially in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. While the study showed the higher incidence of leaky natural gas wells starting in 2009, it did not explain how the leaks occurred or examine where the leaked methane could be found.

“Something is coming out of (the natural gas wells) that shouldn’t, in a place that it shouldn’t,” said Professor Ingraffea.

Rules for New Natural Gas Wells “More Stringent”

Pennsylvania state officials also examined the records of the leaky natural gas wells. The state found that the leak rate reached its highest point in 2010, but dropped off steadily in subsequent years. Morgan Wagner, a spokesman for the state’s environmental agency, said that the agency took a closer look at unconventional natural gas wells in 2011 and called on drillers to improve their cementing methods. The stricter cementing standards were put in place for all natural gas wells, both the conventional sites and the ones that used fracking methods.

Source: FuelFix

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