“Dear Aunty, is it true that we can expect all shale gas wells to leak, especially after abandonment?”
No, of course not.
Fortunately, this is one of the more easily rebutted claims often made by anti-fracking groups that claim the steel and cement with which shale gas wells are built will eventually degrade, dears, leaving gas and fluids free to escape into the environment.
Let’s take a look at the actual facts, shall we?
High rise buildings
Firstly, let’s consider that we can see hundreds of thousands of examples of above ground structures built from steel and cement that have weathered decades of storms and are still standing dears.
The Empire State Building in New York, for instance, started being built in 1926 and is still towering over the city quite safely nearly 100 years later. It is constructed largely from steel and cementitious products.
If these construction materials degraded to the extent claimed by anti-fracking groups, none of these high rise buildings would still be standing.
The Government pipelines and storage system (GPSS)
Maintained by Costain for the Ministry of Defence, Britain boasts an 2,000 kilometre long underground network of pipelines that are used to transport fuel from refineries to distribution depots and airports.
40% of jet fuel (kerosene) is distributed via this system, with Heathrow, Stansted and Manchester airports all directly supplied by pipe.
It isn’t found at depths of several thousand feet like shale gas infrastructure though, cherubs – it’s much closer to the surface. But our water, air and soil are not contaminated as a result, are they?
This network of pipelines that have been in the ground for decades are not all leaking, are they? Just like the casing of shale gas wells, they’re built to last but, crucially, they’re also monitored and maintained – just like onshore oil and gas wells are.
Decades of searching for hydrocarbons means there are dozens of old wells all across Britain, poppets.
Take North Yorkshire as an example, where companies such as Third Energy and Moorland Petroleum are already producing natural gas and planning to look for more.
According to the British Geological Survey, there are a total of 30 former oil and gas exploration wells dotted all over North Yorkshire that have been plugged and abandoned (industry terminology for “made safe, decommissioned and restored”).
The oldest, Kirby G1-G11 drilled by Gulf Exploration Company (Great Britain) Ltd, was sunk in 1938 at Cleveland Hills.
If oil and gas wells were as prone to failure as anti-fracking activists suggest, then North Yorkshire would already be a hotbed of water, air and soil contamination at these 30 well sites. But it’s not, is it? And that’s using borehole construction materials and techniques from decades ago – whereas technology continues to evolve and enhance industry’s ability to safeguard the environment.
It’s quite clear from all the evidence available that onshore oil and gas wells – whether targeting conventional formations or deeper shale gas deposits – can be built to last. They can also be maintained and, if necessary, repaired – for instance, there’s nothing at all to stop an operator installing replacement casing decades from now, as a matter of course.
To suggest otherwise, in the face of this overwhelming evidence, simply isn’t sustainable. In fact, my loves, it’s born either from ignorance or a desire to deliberately distort the truth.
So no, my dears, we have no reason to fear that shale gas wells will all one day leak, even after abandonment.
Until next time xxx