Hydraulic fracturing undertaken in British Columbia (BC) has been absolved of causing methane leaks that contribute to climate change and create safety hazards, according to peer-reviewed research.

oil-and-gas wells

The University of British Columbia’s Energy and Environment Research Initiative reached its verdict in a review of 25,000 northern BC wells.

“Overall, there appear to be no characteristics of well construction or operation in the study database that are conclusively associated with gas migration,” said project supervisor Roger Beckie.

“Specifically, the findings indicate there is no association between wells reporting gas migration and wells that use hydraulic fracturing.”

The three-year study found 145 wells with the leaks that the researchers labeled gas migration, or GM. The offenders were only 0.6% of 25,000 BC wells drilled over the past 70 years.

Leaks turned out to be most common at wells that did not employ fracturing for completion. Researchers speculated that GM could result from geological conditions, led by small gas traps that well bores pierce on the way down to commercial-scale reserves.

The BC Oil and Gas Commission (BCOGC) provided well data and a technical expert for the study. The study was funded by the energy industry’s BC Oil and Gas Research and Innovation Society.

BCOGC CEO Paul Jeakins called the study a contribution to “a solid basis for BC’s regulatory system in the oil and gas sector.” The paper recommended assigning priority to leak detection inspections of wells in areas prone to geological hazards.

“Knowledge of the occurrence and causes of GM is essential for effective management of associated potential risks,” said researchers.

“In BC, oil and gas producers are required to report well drilling, completion, production and abandonment records for all oil and gas wells to the provincial regulator. This well data provides a unique opportunity to identify well characteristics with higher likelihoods for GM to develop.”

Producers have stepped up in North America to monitor their emissions, some in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund.