Appalachian Basin

Pa. Enviro Regulator’s Analysis Concludes Operation of Shale Wells Is Protective of Groundwater

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently released its comprehensive analysis of the structural integrity of shale wells across the Commonwealth. The Mechanical Integrity Assessment Program report “shows that the majority of wells in the state are being operated in a manner that greatly reduces the risk for groundwater impacts,” according to DEP.

DEP explained that gas or fluid migration from a well “has the greatest potential to result in environmental concerns,” but 2014 data demonstrated that this is not a widespread issue for the state’s oil and gas industry. In fact, according to DEP, the data “showed that less than 1 percent of operator observations indicated the types of integrity problems, such as gas outside surface casing, that could allow gas to move beyond the well footprint.”

That’s a far cry from the ridiculous and oft-repeated well integrity claims made by anti-fracking activists across the country. As Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Spigelmyer explained in a statement following the report’s release,

“At a time when anti-energy activists are seeking to undermine the integrity and safety of our operations, this report, like countless others, reflects that natural gas development and strong protection for our environment are not mutually exclusive.”

DEP Sec. Patrick McDonnell explained in a press release that the report is “the most rigorous routine well integrity assessment program to protect groundwater in the United States.” And with reports submitted for 99 percent of the state’s unconventional wells, Pa.’s shale industry has shown strong and consistent compliance in reporting.

According to DEP, in addition to onsite inspections and file audits conducted by the agency, all oil and gas operators – conventional and unconventional – must conduct quarterly inspections of the structural soundness of their wells. These inspections include:

  • “Leaks outside the surface casing, which is the outermost casing layer around the well, designed to protect groundwater;
  • “Leaks outside the intermediate casing, which is the well casing intended to facilitate safe drilling of most shale gas wells to the depth where gas is found;
  • “Gas flows or pressures inside and outside the production casing, which is the deepest casing layer in the well;
  • “Escaping fluids (oil, gas, and saltwater); and
  • “Severe corrosion.”

This latest report and data set from DEP adds to a growing body of research demonstrating that fracking does not pose a major risk to groundwater.  And it comes at a critical time in Pa., as the Delaware River Basin Commission deliberates over a potential ban on high volume hydraulic fracturing in the basin. Importantly, this report further shows the decision to ban shale development in the Commonwealth has no basis in science.

As Spigelmyer said, the industry’s collaboration with regulators and other stakeholders, as well as laser-focus “on leveraging continuously improving technologies, world-class engineering solutions and best practices aimed at safeguarding and enhancing our environment, including groundwater protection, as well as public health” are ensuring continued environmental and economic progress here in the Commonwealth. Shale is a game-changer and a win-win for our state and the region as whole.

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