While the U.K. government has been exploring options for introducing hydraulic fracturing as a method for shale gas extraction, a new study by researchers at Durham University and the British Geological Survey has raised concerns over the safety of fracking operations.
The scientists have warned that well leaks could pose a serious problem, as at least 6 percent of fracking wells could suffer structural defects that could lead to leaks and contaminate the environment. While fracking as a process is very unlikely to cause environmental issues, the risk of water and ground contamination is much higher when other factors, such as inadequate cement seals at wells, are taken into account, said one of the study authors, Professor Richard Davies of Durham University.
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In the U.K. more than 2,150 hydrocarbon wells were drilled between 1902 and 2013, with the vast majority of those targeting conventional reservoirs. In total, more than half of the wells were drilled by companies that no longer exist or that have been taken over. This puts well integrity management in question, the study said.
Statistically, of the 143 active wells drilled in the 21st century, only one has suffered a well integrity failure. However, in Europe and in the U.K. specifically, data is scarce and the report pointed out that the number of wells that have experienced a leak is likely to be underestimated.