Shale industry Q&A initiative misses reply deadline by 38 days

A question to the drilling industry’s Let’s Talk About Shale initiative has finally been answered, 68 days after it was submitted. Just under half the questions published on the initiative’s website remain unanswered.

Let’s Talk About Shale was launched on 8th September by UK Onshore Oil and Gas, the organisation representing onshore drilling companies. It invited people to submit questions about shale to a website,  by post or by hand at roadshow events in north west England. UKOOG promised to respond within 30 days “if not sooner”, committing to source “the best information available to answer all of the questions we have received”.

We set out to test the initiative and asked a man from Sussex to submit a question. On 12th September he sent this:

“Who will be responsible for monitoring wells for leaks after production has finished? (In Pennsylvania some estimates say 40% of all methane emissions is leaking from disused wells).  Who will be responsible for any repairs/resealing that is needed?”

After waiting more than 60 days, our questioner contacted UKOOG to find out what had happened to his question. The organisation replied the same day, explaining that the programme had been “overwhelmed with questions (over 700, to be exact)”.

This morning, nearly a week later and 38 days after the 30 day deadline, the 166-word answer finally arrived. The key point is in the third paragraph.

Monitoring of decommissioned wells is the responsibility of the operator. Once production has finished, shale gas wells are decommissioned. The well is filled with cement and a cap is then welded in place, which is then buried.

This process of decommissioning is covered by well integrity regulations set out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)*, which point the HSE’s involvement comes to an end [sic]. The decommissioning plan needs to be approved by the Environment Agency and the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

The industry is developing guidelines for monitoring of wells post-decommissioning, which will be published within a year.

Professor Philip Thomas of City University London said “35 years ago, not too much attention was paid to planning for the decommissioning of industrial installations generally, but, following the lead of the nuclear industry, the oil and gas industry is now recognising at the design stage the need for eventual decommissioning.”

This answer was peer reviewed by Simon Talbot, Managing Director of Ground Gas Solutions.

In an email to our questioner, UKOOG explained that the question had been answered with the help of Professor Thomas. According to a City University biography, Professor Thomas has 25 years of experience in industry but there is no reference to work in oil and gas. Ground Gas Solutions, whose managing director reviewed the answer, has carried out monitoring work for IGas and Cuadrilla.

UKOOG also said Let’s Talk About Shale had received over 1,560 questions, either to the website, by post or through roadshow events in town centres. “This was a great response to the initiative, showing the desire of the public to engage on the subject”, the email said.

So far, UKOOG has published a total of 161 questions on the Let’s Talk About Shale website, in seven categories.

Of the total, 86 or 53% have been answered. The remaining 75 (47%) are still waiting for an answer.

Let's Talk About Shale questions and answers

UKOOG has done best at answering published questions about the Let’s Talk About Shale initiative itself. 82% of these have been answered. The lowest proportion of answered questions are in the categories Tremors, Jobs & Growth, Energy, and Local Development, where less than half of the published questions have been answered.

We asked UKOOG’s PR company, Newgate Communications, a total of 11 questions about the progress of Let’s Talk About Shale. We wanted to know how many questions had come via the website, the roadshow events and by post, how many had been answered and when the job would be complete. We were also interested in who was answering the questions, the success of the roadshows and what future plans there were to extend the initiative.

We received this response:

We have had over 1,550 responses to the initiative and we are in the process of answering questions and posting on the Let’s Talk About Shale website. Where people have left their contact details, we have committed to writing personally to those people. I hope that answers your questions.

We asked our questions again but received no further reply.

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