New report cites nearly 1,000 oil and gas spills in Piceance Basin in last decade

A nonprofit sportsmen’s group Thursday released a report detailing 10 years of oil and gas spills in the three counties in Northwest Colorado that include parts of the heavily drilled Piceance Basin.

The Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance released an analysis (pdf) detailing nearly 1,000 spills of wastewater, oil and other fluids between 2001 and 2010 – or a rate of about 100 a year. The data came from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which regulates oil and gas drilling in the state.

Garfield County saw 3.5 million gallons in spilled fluids compared to 2 million gallons in Rio Blanco County and .13 million gallons in Mesa County. Only about half of the fluids are ever recovered in cleanup operations.

According to the report: “About 91 percent of the oil and gas fluids spilled in the three counties from 2001 to 2010 was wastewater, also known as produced water. That water can contain salt, oil and grease, along with naturally occurring radioactive material and inorganic and organic compounds.”

Equipment failure was cited as the leading cause for the spills, with about 49 percent of the 992 spills blamed on faulty equipment and another 23 percent of the spills blamed on human error.

“A lifelong resident of Colorado, I have vivid memories of hunting and fishing with my dad in the Piceance Basin,” said Gaspar Perricone of the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance.

“We have seen firsthand the devastating effects of these spills and accidents. In addition to groundwater contamination, rigs, roads and production facilities have significant impacts on wildlife migratory patterns and fish habitat.”

In an interview earlier this month with the Colorado Independent, COGCC Executive Director David Neslin said investigating and resolving the state’s backlog of spill complaints is a top priority.

“Our goal is to work down the backlog by the end of June such that by the end of June all of our active enforcement cases would be no more than one year old,” Neslin said. “We’re working very hard to achieve that objective.”

Many of the most high-profile spills have been dealt with in recent years, resulting in record fines against the companies responsible.

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