The liberation of methane gas from shale layers (unconventional gas) without the use of hydraulic fracking, gas recovery could not occur. Therefore, three phases are needed to undertake the exploration and exploitation of methane gas.

  • Geological and seismic investigation.

  • Exploratory drilling.

  • Exploitation from drilled and cased holes.

The boom of unconventional gas exploitation from shales and coal seams, has both benefits and risks.

The major long-term risk to the environment and climate change is the leakage and migration of methane.

Society, mainly through the media has become aware of the impact of methane flowing from producing, shut in (idle), orphan (not possible to determine legal owner) and abandoned (when it has been permanently taken out of production) wells.

Erring on the side of caution, society seeks the application of the Precautionary Principle, this being a suitable approach to take when considering how social license should be awarded.

The oil, gas and coal seam industry seeks to apply risk management to its activities, being willing to progress developments quickly and accepting that failure has a high cost that may be incurred together with reputational damage.

When examining the impact of methane leakage, society questions the efficiency and effectiveness of well abandonment. The world has a history of hundreds of thousands of unplugged or poorly plugged leaking wells.

Well failure, the presence of orphan and inadequately abandoned leaking wells worldwide, identified the need of adequate legislation to ensure sufficient finance is available to achieve permanent plug and abandonment of oil, gas and coal seam wells.

Failing to provide well-structured legislation, industry does not have a structured plan to follow, society and the environment therefore remains at risk. This is evident with the number of oil and gas companies that have or are about to go into administration leaving a legacy of damaged environments.

This paper seeks to establish proceeding with caution will minimise methane leakage, loss and damage and retention of social license.

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