More than 500 oil and gas spills reported in 2016, data shows

A BLM intern works to identify idle oil wells and urge operators to either put them back in production or plug them permanently. Abandoned oil and gas wells can be pathways for methane to leak into the atmosphere. (Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management)
A BLM intern works to identify abandoned oil wells and urge operators to either put them back in production or plug them permanently. (Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management)

Oil and gas companies in Colorado reported at total of 509 industry-related spills in 2016, a new report finds. That’s down from the 615 spills reported in 2015, a decrease which coincides with the recent decline in oil and gas production.

The report, the Colorado Toxic Release Tracker, is from the Center for Western Priorities, an environmental advocacy group. It provides an annual analysis of spill data from the state oil and gas regulatory agency.

The report’s authors predict that rising oil prices will increase drilling activity and lead to more spills in upcoming years.

This year, the tracker found that just five companies accounted for nearly half of the spills across the state. Houston-based Noble Energy was the biggest culprit, responsible for about one of every six spills. Noble was also responsible for the most spills in 2015.

The vast majority of these incidents occurred on private lands, with about 9 percent reported on federal lands and just 2 percent on state land.

More than half of the spills involved wastewater leakage, which is salty and often contains chemical toxins, and slightly over 10 percent of the spills impacted groundwater or surface water.

Fully half of the incidents occurred in Weld County, a hotbed of drilling activity.

Scott Prestidge of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said of the report, “Protecting our environment is top of mind for Colorado’s oil and gas industry. We worked with the COGCC in 2014 to increase its stringent spill reporting requirements, tightening the threshold from 20 barrels to 5 barrels, including any spilling of water. Seeing the reduction in total spills decrease under these new reporting rules is encouraging news.”

Jesse Prentice-Dunn of the Center for Western Priorities said that as drilling ramps up again in Colorado, it’s important that residents understand the risks and impacts to the the environment and groundwater.

“Thankfully,” he said, “Colorado has strong reporting requirements for oil and gas-related spills.”


Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management