Hundreds of fracking wells in Pennsylvania have been reported for failures that could lead to air and water pollution, according to a new report.
The report, which focused on fracking wells in the U.K. and Pennsylvania, looked at multiple datasets of wells in Pennsylvania to determine their rate of well failures. Researchers found that one-third of a dataset of 3,533 wells in the state had been reported for environmental violation notices between 2008 and 2011. These violations included surface water contamination, land spills, site restoration problems and well barrier failures, including four violations for well blowouts. Another dataset of 8,030 wells contained 506 reports for well barrier failures between 2005 and 2013.
The researchers, who are based in the U.K., used this data on Pennsylvania to compare their safety to wells in the United Kingdom. They said there were many unknowns about the safety of fracking wells in the U.K., a finding that pointed to the need for more monitoring and safety precautions for the wells, especially as fracking expands in the country.
“The research confirms that well failure in hydrocarbon wells is an issue and that publicly available data in Europe on this seems to be sparse,” Richard Davies, a professor at Durham University in the U.K. and lead author of the research, said. “In the UK, wells are monitored by well inspectors but there is no information in the public domain, so we don’t really know the full extent of well failures. There were unknowns we couldn’t get to the bottom of.”
Unknowns about the safety of fracking operations aren’t uncommon. A recent investigation by InsideClimate News, the Center for Public Integrity, and the Weather Channel found that the state of Texas knows “almost nothing” about the pollution from the Eagle Ford shale play, one of the most active drilling sites in the United States. The investigation found that thousands of Texas oil and gas facilities are allowed to self-audit their emissions, meaning that they don’t have to report them to the state. It also found that pollution complaints in Texas rarely result in punishment for the companies — out of 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints in the Eagle Ford region between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines.
Concerns over fracking in the U.K. have heated up in recent months, especially after British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the country is “going all out for shale.” In January, U.K. ministers were considering changing trespassing laws to make it possible for companies to explore for gas under private residences without the owners’ permission. This news and the potential for expanded fracking in general the country has led to protests and an increase of U.K. citizens opposed to fracking, according to one survey.