Letter: Movies, activists are not credible sources on oil and gas wells


The author of the Aug. 5 letter about natural gas wells mistakenly believes cable movies and anti-industry activists, such as New York filmmaker Josh Fox, are credible sources.

Fox and other C-List celebrities have thrown all kinds of numbers against the wall, hoping to fool the public into believing steel and cement casings in oil and gas wells are routinely leaking and damaging groundwater. In June 2011, Fox claimed 5 percent of wells are leaking. In February 2012, he alleged it was 40 percent, and just days later, claimed on Al-Jazeera TV it was 50 percent. Then he came up with a new number, 16.7 percent. Late last year, one of Fox’s fellow activists — performance artist Yoko Ono — alleged it’s 60 percent. Then last month, Fox said it was really 35 percent, citing the Society of Petroleum Engineers, something the SPE denies.

What Fox, Ono and their group “Artists Against Fracking” won’t tell you is the regulators who oversee oil and gas development have strict standards for steel and cement casings, and have studied their effectiveness for decades. In fact, a group of state regulators called Ground Water Protection Council published a report that took in more than 220,000 oil and natural gas wells, and no more than 0.03 percent experienced gradual erosions of casing or cement that impacted groundwater. Most of these wells were developed in the 1980s and 1990s, before improved technologies and updated regulations came online, and no problems were related to the hydraulic fracturing process, which lasts only days in the decades-long life of an oil and gas well.

So, real-world data show these problems are rare, not routine. That’s because government regulators require steel and cement casings to be monitored and tested repeatedly during the construction of a well, and oil and gas operators often go beyond those legal requirements. If there’s a problem, operators have the technology to repair those casings, and regulators have the authority to make sure they do.

For drama and sensation, there’s HBO and activist talking points. For facts, the findings of state regulators are a good place to start.

Simon Lomax

Research director, Energy In Depth


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