Map plots boomtime drilling spills (lots of them) in Colorado

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]S election season heats up in Colorado, the battle for greater local regulatory control over oil-and gas drilling will rage at high pitch, political candidates will sound off on jobs and the proper role of government and drilling will continue at its current breakneck pace — which will mean more accidents and spills.

The energy and environment research Center for Western Priorities this week released a map of oil-industry spills that have occurred in Colorado over the past 13 years. It’s a colorful map but it’s not very pretty.

The map is built on information compiled by the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and it’s dotted with 4,900 Colorado spill sites, which the group says amount to tens of millions of gallons of oil, drilling fluid and other toxic waste. The main sites of the spills come in the four corners of a square that runs between Grand Junction, Durango, Trinidad and Greeley. The vast majority of the spills come in the northern front range, in an area extending southwest from Greeley between Fort Collins, Boulder, Broomfield, Longmont and Lafayette. Those are the five cities that have drawn lawsuits from the industry and the state for voting over the last two years in support of municipal bans and moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing — the extraction technique where drillers blast millions of gallons of mixed sand, water and chemicals deep into underground rock formations to crack open fissures and release oil and gas.

At its related “Colorado Toxic Release Tracker,” the Center for Western Priorities reports that, since the beginning of the year, drillers reported 156 spills in the state. They reported 44 spills in March. So far, 6 percent of spills this year were reported to have contaminated water. Eighty-four spills occurred within 1,000 feet of surface water. Forty-two spills have occurred less than 50 feet from groundwater.

In a release accompanying the map, Center Policy Director Greg Zimmerman said the numbers spotlight a “significant problem.”

“Part of responsible energy development is holding companies to the highest standards,” he said. “More than one spill per day isn’t cutting it. Chemical releases from drilling puts communities, water resources and the West’s outdoor spaces at risk.”

Click on the image of the map below to surf to the interactive version.

spill map

[ Top photo by Chris Tirpak via Flickr. “From deep in the heart of the red zone… graffiti just down the street from my house in Monument, Colorado — that is in El Paso County.” ]