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Special Digest


08/01/2014

Government misleads on well abandonment - a vital issue and another government failure.

It is repeatedly said by the pro-frackers and government that the recommendations of the government-commissioned report of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering on fracking have been implemented. Hence fracking is safe. We from our side have repeatedly said the recommendations of the scientific and enginmeering bodies have NOT been implemented.

One more example of this cropped up this week.

In their response to the Royals report the government said in December 2012 that In advance of any scheme agreed between DECC and UKOOG to ensure the safety of abandoned wells, "For the Cuadrilla wells in Lancashire, the company has agreed to put in place specific measures, in advance of agreement on a wider scheme, to ensure effective monitoring and management of abandoned wells."

Also in December 2012 DECC issued a Q&A response to consultation on the "earthquake" reports. This included the following - "The procedures for abandoning a well are designed to ensure that it is permanently sealed. In addition, DECC is introducing arrangements to ensure that, for a defined period after abandonment of a well, the operator will monitor the groundwater and the air in the vicinity of the abandoned well."

A year later, I asked what measures were in place - both in general and in the specific case of Cuadrilla, who of course are abandoning two of their failed wells, at Anna's Road and Preese Hall.
The answer I received made it clear that there are no abandonment rules in place. Cuadrilla have not applied for any abandonment, hence no measures or monitoring have been agreed.
Once again, it seems, government statements are put out with the intention to mislead.

This is by no means an inconsequential issue. It is is fairly clear that many wells fail during construction - even test wells - and during testing and production. A greater number fail over decades, and we believe all will fail at some time in the future. The method of abandonment is crucial top the future well-being of the environment. Monitoring of abandoned wells is crucial.

Only recently, Professor Richard Davies of Durham University gave evidence to the Lords Committee on Economic Affairs on this issue. He pointed out that in the majority of cases of wells drilled onshore already - even ones drilled in the last 5-10 years - we didn't even know where they were. He pointed out it was essential to monitor fracking wells long term. As he said "cement breaks down and cracks, and steel corrodes." The government has, however, more than once said this is a matter for the industry. A clear dereliction of duty to protect the public.

Yet the government has also refused to consider requiring the industry to put up bonds or take mandatory insurance to cover abandoned wells. In December environment minister Dan Rogerson ruled out any such proposals. This leaves the taxpayer to pick up the tab for any future pollution incidents, but - more worryingly - there is nothing in place to safeguard from occurrence of such incidents, nor any monitoring of whether they have occured.

In 2014 we are facing a new rush to test drill and frack, with NO scheme in place to protect the environment from the inevitable failure of onshore wells.

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