About That 35 Percent ‘Leakage’ Claim

Gasland director Josh Fox recently appeared on Platts Energy Week with Chris Newkumet, who fittingly began the interview by stating that Gasland Part II “look[s] an awful lot like the last one.”  Not a bad observation, given that Part II continues the trend of factual errors and deception. One of those misleading claims is that 35 percent of gas wells around the world are leaking. You can watch the video above, and the excerpt is transcribed here:

NEWKUMET: “Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said just a few weeks ago on this program that he feels the effects of fracking are manageable.  Seems like a pretty smart guy. Why don’t you believe him?”

FOX: “Because it’s not true; because it’s not what the science tells us.  The Society of Petroleum Engineers – just a power point that was leaded to us – to me – shows that the Society of Petroleum Engineers is well aware of the leakage problem.  It says out of the 1.8 million gas wells in the world, 35 percent of them have sustained casing pressure (i.e. 35 percent of them are leaking). And it also says in the same power point the industry plans to drill more wells in the next decade than they’ve drilled in the last hundred years.  It also says that the public is becoming increasingly aware of what they call zonal isolation problems – the wells are leaking – and that solving this problem would require a quote “push in technology” meaning current technology cannot solve the well leakage problem. Ernest Moniz is wrong in terms of the science about the well … and he’s also wrong in terms of the forecast of what we need to do right now for energy.”

Aside from the laughable suggestion that Ernest Moniz – a nuclear physicist with a Ph.D. from Stanford – knows less about science than a New York City filmmaker, Josh Fox has been repeating this “leaking well” point in nearly every interview he gives, including his appearance a few weeks ago on The Daily Show.

Sounds suspicious, right?  It is – and it’s also entirely manufactured.

First of all, this might be news to self-anointed scientific expert Josh Fox, but sustained casing pressure (SCP) is not leaking; it’s merely the accumulation of pressure inside a well. Can SCP lead to a leak? Yes. Does it always lead to a leak? Not at all.

We’ve explored this issue before (blog post here), but just to recap: Sustained casing pressure happens if there is a buildup of pressure in the space between well casings.  Even if a well does experience SCP, it doesn’t mean that the well is going to leak – it’s more like someone who has a tire that needs inflated; we wouldn’t say they have a “blown tire.” Further, there are a number of technologies that can rectify SCP if it does occur and numerous options available to companies to reduce or even eliminate it altogether.

Second, it’s odd that Fox would cite the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) for his data. The Daily Kos – a blog that no one would consider “industry friendly” – asked SPE for their reaction to Fox’s claim. Here’s what Fox’s own supposed source said:

The actual quote from Mr. Fox on the Daily Show was that the “Society of Petroleum Engineers says that 35% of the world’s wells are leaking”.  Neither SPE, nor anyone representing SPE, has ever made the claim that 35% of the world’s (oil and gas) wells are leaking.  We have no basis for making such a determination.

Thank you,

Paige McCown

Society of Petroleum Engineers

Senior Manager Communication & Energy Education

So, to recap: Josh Fox claims 35 percent of the world’s gas wells are leaking, according to the Society of Petroleum Engineers. But the Society of Petroleum Engineers says no, they have never said that, and they would have no basis for making such a claim in the first place.

Gee, who to believe?

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