News headlines around gas storage leaks highlight that it is not only oil and gas producing wells that need continuous real-time integrity monitoring to avoid catastrophic infrastructure failures.

According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) forecasts, we can expect a sustained period of growth in natural gas consumption over the next few years. And by 2040, gas will be second only to oil as the largest source of energy worldwide – accounting for 24 per cent of the global energy mix. But what does this mean for the energy industry?

Well it points to a greater demand for storage facilities to maintain a reliable energy supply throughout the year and mitigate against supply – and price – volatility for the end consumer.

For these reasons, underground gas storage (UGS) – which takes advantage of existing but depleted reservoirs, salt caves or aquifers – makes commercial sense for companies involved in the production and transmission of natural gas.

Operators of UGS wells need confidence that they have complete control over their integrity. The well tubing, well casing, casing cement bond, sealing elements, packers, wellhead seals, and the valves all present opportunities for leakage. Without control of each and every one of these components, the whole well loses integrity.

Should a breach occur, with risk of a leak or major blow out, the storage facility not only poses significant risks to health, safety and the environment, it is quite literally leaking profits. Therefore, activities such as well integrity management provide cost savings by optimising the scheduling tasks like maintenance and inspections as well as real-time risk assessment for activity prioritisation.

Of course, it’s not just day-to-day revenue that’s at stake. The environmental concerns that drive gas demand also mean that regulators and other government bodies take a negative view of leaks and their impact on public health, land values and efforts to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions. And since the most cost-effective storage facilities are located fairly close to end-consumers, there is an inevitable reputational consequence on top of the likely financial penalties to be paid.

The past decade has seen well integrity management become part of the standard approach to operational control and risk mitigation associated with well operations. What’s more, it’s increasingly accepted that real-time monitoring and analysis of an infrastructure’s integrity is the key factor in identifying potential failures.

But only with the combination of real-time data evaluation and warnings of developing problems that advanced well integrity management systems offer, can upcoming breaches of well integrity be identified and mitigated. Operating without this in place is a risks companies can’t afford to take.