Jul 11 2012

Cuomo Legacy — Fracked?

Cuomo Legacy Comes Full Circle in NY State

From Father’s Nuclear Dump to Son’s Hydraulic Fracturing;


Meanwhile Industry Documents Big Risks with Drilling:

Well Integrity “A Global Challenge,” Says Industry


Is the Cuomo legacy coming full circle – like father, like son?

Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo suggests that the “southern tier” of New York State, along the border of Pennsylvania, is a good place to initiate high-volume hydraulic fracturing.1

Twenty-three years ago, Governor Mario Cuomo wanted to put a nuclear dump in the southern tier, specifically Allegany County.2

Perhaps this bit of vintage citizen verse is coming back to taunt (or haunt) the Cuomo legacy.  (See photo.)

I’ll Take Allegany County

Its Roads So Bumpy

Let Cuomo Keep

His Nuclear Dumpy

Vintage verse marking Mario Cuomo's plans for a nuclear dump.


The Cuomo referred to is Mario Cuomo who was planning to site a nuclear dump in Allegany County in the 1989-1990 time frame.  That was then, this is now.

The irony is that Andrew Cuomo could be the recipient of similar poetry (see repurposed photo):

I love my home in Allegany

And I’ll live here all my life

Cause who would buy this house

Next to Cuomo’s Fracking Site?

Will Andrew Cuomo bring the family legacy full circle? (Repurposed photo.)


Depending on his decision, he will own this hydraulic fracturing legacy; and even those who would otherwise support him may not in the next election.

In public meetings and on websites, self declared life-long Democrats say that if Governor Andrew Cuomo persists in opening the state to high-volume hydraulic fracturing, they will follow the “ABC” voting practice – Anybody But Cuomo.

Scare tactics?  Perhaps not, based on the industry’s own data.  Would it not be fact based, as well as useful, to understand the failure rates over time for gas and oil wells? 

Cuomo 2nd Term = 20% Oil/Gas Well Leaks?

The probability of environmental and community risk is not trivial, according to industry itself.  In addition, the risk to well integrity is not limited to the “fracturing” segment of the process.

According to Rich Liroff, PhD., executive director of the Investor Environmental Health Network:

“Such risks are associated with the broad life cycle of shale operations…. They are not limited to concern about hydraulic fracturing in its narrowest, technical sense.”3

Regarding the Cuomo legacy, Josh Fox, producer of the movie Gasland, predicts (emphasis added):4

“So if New York State starts drilling tomorrow, and Andrew Cuomo is elected for a second term – by the end of his second term as governor, it’s safe to say that 20% or more of oil and gas wells installed in his first term will be leaking.” 

Energy Industry Documents Well Failures

Proponents of drilling may scoff, but Fox draws on the energy industry’s own documentation including technical papers, and presentations from companies like Schlumberger, Southwestern Energy, Archer and others.

These industry sources are highlighted in his 18-minute video on potential drilling in New York State titled The Sky Is Pink.  Link: http://vimeo.com/44367635

In broad brush strokes, industry sources suggest that the first year of drilling sees well failure rates of 6-7 percent.  Failures rise after that; and failure rates can climb to 50% in just 15 years.

The industry sources are illuminating because industry does not mince words about problems with well failures – usually discussed under the umbrella of “well integrity.”  We have written previously about some of these industry pronouncements.5

Following are highlights from three industry sources.  All three can be reviewed in their entirety by going to footnotes 5, 6, 7 under Links & Resources below.

Schlumberger Warns on Cement Failure

For example, Schlumberger (NYSE – SLB), a world leader in the oil and gas industry, warns: “Despite recent advances in the cementing of oil and gas wells, many of today’s wells are at risk. … The environmental impact of contaminating a single fresh water aquifer is extremely serious.”

This warning is from the introduction to Schlumberger’s book, Well Cementing (Second Edition, 2006) by Eric B. Nelson and others.

In Oilfield Review (Autumn 2003), a 15-page Schlumberger article titled, From Mud to Cement – Building Gas Wells, states:  “Even a flawless primary cement job can be damaged by rig operations or well activities occurring after the cement has set.”5

Uncontrolled gas migration can contaminate surface and ground water; it is a well-known problem in the industry.  As the article notes (p. 63):

“Since the earliest gas wells, uncontrolled migration of hydrocarbons to the surface has challenged the oil and gas industry. Gas migration, also called annular flow, can lead to sustained casing pressure (SCP), sometimes called sustained annular pressure (SAP). … Annular flow and SCP are significant problems affecting wells in many hydrocarbon-producing regions of the world.”

Schlumberger lists four categories of likely causes of uncontrolled gas migration in a well (p. 64):

  • Tubing and casing leaks
  • Poor mud displacement
  • Improper cement-slurry design
  • Damage to primary cement after setting

The Schlumberger documents show a graph of U.S. Minerals Management Service data from 22,000 underwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico that indicates cement failures rise with the age of the well.  (See graph in this article.)

After 12 years about 40 percent of wells have cement failure. After 30 years, about 60 percent of wells have cement failure.

SCHLUMBERGER technical paper uses graph from U.S. Minerals Management to indicate that cement failures rise with the age of the well.


Well Integrity – “A Global Challenge”

Another industry source is Archer (OSE: Archer) – The Well Company – “a global oilfield service company that specializes in drilling services.”  This giant characterizes well integrity as “a global challenge.”  (See illustration in this article.)

ARCHER -- THE WELL COMPANY: Well integrity is "a global challenge." Shows % of wells with "integrity" issues.


The “global challenge” of well integrity is outlined in an Archer presentation titled, “Better Well Integrity” delivered by Ken Feather, VP Marketing & Sales, Well Services, in March 2011.  It indicates the percentage of wells with “integrity” issues:6

  • 45% of wells in the Gulf of Mexico (or >6,000)
  • 34% of wells in the North Sea/UK (or 1,600)
  • 18% of wells in the North Sea/Norway (or 482) [Slide 5 in presentation.]

In terms of “failures affecting well integrity & performance,” Archer further suggests that 20% of catastrophic well failures are due to loss of well bore integrity.  [Slide 6 in presentation.]

Southwestern Energy – What Can Go Wrong

Southwestern Energy’s (NYSE: SWN) James Bolander, VP of Health, Safety & Environment, delivered a presentation in Washington, DC, titled “Assessment Methods for Well Integrity during the Hydraulic Fracturing Cycle.” 7

In it, the company illustrates what can go wrong such as cement channeling, or a leak through the well casing.  [See illustration in this article.]

SOUTHWESTERN ENERGY presentation illustrates what can go wrong such as a leak through the well casing.


Will regulators, government officials, and energy industry advocates be “fact based and non-emotional” about the probability of cement and well integrity failure immediately and over time – as documented by the industry?

Neither Pennsylvania nor New York track well failure rates, so how will they understand or deal with it?

And what of the thousands of abandoned or unreported wells in New York State alone?

4,000 Abandoned/Unreported Wells in New York

“There are approximately 4,000 abandoned or unreported wells on DEC’s priority plugging list,” according to Emily DeSantis, Assistant Director of Public Information for DEC.  “There are approximately 35,000 wells for which DEC has no records.”

As DeSantis told this writer in October of last year, “the proposed dSGEIS requires drilling companies to survey the land generally within one mile of a proposed well location.  If an unplugged deep well is found, DEC would require the operator to properly plug and abandon it before any high-volume fracturing begins.”

The challenge, as we have noted before, is that track records always trump promises.  If New York State cannot clean up old drilling messes, how will it prevent – let alone clean up – new drilling messes?  Especially if it does not even monitor and track well failure rates.

Is this the Cuomo legacy?

Links & Resources

1 Cuomo Proposal Would Restrict Gas Drilling to a Struggling AreaThe New York Times, June 13, 2012, by Danny Hakim: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/nyregion/hydrofracking-under-cuomo-plan-would-be-restricted-to-a-few-counties.html?_r=2

2 Allegany County resists nuclear dumping, 1989-1990 – summary of May 1989 to April 1990 at Global Nonviolent Action Database (Research notes listed at end of article): http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/allegany-county-resists-nuclear-dumping-1989-1990

3 Investors Want MEASURED Transparency Spectra Energy Watch: http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=1614

4 New Anti-Fracking Film by Gasland’s Josh Fox Targets Cuomo: ‘Governor, What Color Will the Sky Be Over New York?’Rolling Stone, by Jeff Goodell, June 20, 2012  http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/national-affairs/new-anti-fracking-film-by-gaslands-josh-fox-targets-cuomo-governor-what-color-will-the-sky-be-over-new-york-20120620#ixzz1yMR5yJ6G

5 From Mud to Cement – Building Gas Wells, Schlumberger, by Claudio Brufatto and others, Oilfield Review, Autumn 2003, pp. 62-76 – http://www.slb.com/~/media/Files/resources/oilfield_review/ors03/aut03/p62_76.ashx    Pdf file:  From-Mud-to-Cement-article

6 ARCHER – THE WELL COMPANY presentation: “Better Well Integrity” delivered by Ken Feather, VP Marketing & Sales, Well Services, in March 2011 – pdf file:   ARCHER well_integrity_failure_presentation

7 SOUTHWESTERN ENERGY presentation: “Assessment Methods for Well Integrity during the Hydraulic Fracturing Cycle” by James Bolander, VP of Health, Safety & Environment, in Washington, DC, March 2011 – Pdf file:  SWN assessmentmethodsforwellintegrityduringthehfcycle

NOTE:  This article is cross-posted on the Accountability Central website at this link:  http://www.accountability-central.com/nc/single-view-default/article/cuomo-legacy-comes-full-circle-in-ny-state/  Accountability Central is part of the Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc.

One Response

  1. Jim Weiss Says:

    The nuclear waste dump was also sited in Cortland County, where I was active in the resistance. The NYS siting process was driven by a federal mandate for states to take care of their own “low level” (a lie) waste. Andrew Cuomo is definitely not his father. Mario Cuomo was not a friend of the nuclear industry. He also was willing to engage, not sneak around to the back door like his secretive son. (He even gave my friend’s 10 year old son a ride in his helicopter when he came out to view the sites!). It’s true that we had to apply a lot of pressure, which did make things uncomfortable for him. Eventually, because of a citizen-initiated constitutional challenge which went all the way to the US Supreme Court, the siting law was ruled unconstitutional and Mario Cuomo halted the siting process. There is a lot we can learn about civil resistance, especially from Allegany County, but the scope of geopolitical – economic – environmental aspects of shale gas make the nuclear waste dump look like a child’s sandbox.

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