New spill reporting rules won’t reduce number of spills

December 18, 2013

COGCC, Colorado

For a few years we may see the number of spills increase as the new rules take effect, increasing the possibility that more spills will be reported than in previous years. On December 17, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission voted unanimously in favor of new spill reporting regulations that significantly tighten the volume thresholds and time frame for operators to report spills of oil as well as exploration and production waste.

The new, improved rules build upon House Bill 13-1278, which was sponsored by Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, and Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora. The new law was passed earlier this year and took effect August 7. The law replaces previous Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rules regarding spill reporting.

Under the new rules, any spill of five barrels or more must be reported within 24 hours. Any spill of one barrel or more that occurs outside secondary containment, such as metal or earthen berms, must also be reported within 24 hours. One barrel equals 42 gallons. Previously the rules stated that spills between five and 20 barrels could be reported within 10 days.

In Tuesday’s press release the state Department of Natural Resources reaffirmed the 24-hour requirement that applies to waterways: “The rules continue to require reporting within 24 hours of any spill that impacts or threatens to impact waters of the state, any occupied structure, livestock, a public byway or surface water supply area.”

COGCC Director Matt Lepore said, “These are important improvements to our spill reporting requirements and improve our ability to track and respond to spills and releases across Colorado. These regulations will improve the public’s confidence in our ability to protect public health, safety and our environment.”

The Daily SentinelState tightens spill rule in oil, gas fields [subscribers only]

… The rules as approved Tuesday included some minor revisions to the latest draft proposal. The draft proposed requiring a written spill report from companies within 48 hours. The final rule allows 72 hours, to provide extra time for companies that may be busy responding to the spill itself and may be dealing with weekend or holiday timeframes or small staffs.

One point of contention in the rules involved whether chemical spills that occur before those chemicals are used in a well for purposes such as hydraulic fracturing should be covered by the rules. The commission decided they shouldn’t because it says its jurisdiction extends only to exploration and production wastes coming up from a well — and not what hasn’t yet gone downhole.

Matt Sura, an attorney representing Western Resource Advocates, said that distinction is lost on the public, which would expect reporting to the commission of spills of drilling and fracking fluids.

Lepore said reporting of such spills are subject to reporting requirements of other agencies such as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Western Resource Advocates also argued that the secondary containment exclusion to the reporting requirement for spills between one and five barrels should mean berms that have liners, because they otherwise provide little or no protection.

The rule requires that secondary containment be “sufficiently impervious” to contain a spill.

The Denver PostColorado oil, gas panel votes to tighten reporting requirement on spills

Of course tougher spill reporting rules won’t stop the spills and won’t make operators suddenly more responsible. The core problem is the number of spills. As of November 4, Kirby Wynn reported that Garfield County had 65 reported spills this year, including 20 that were outside the on-site containment area. Thus far that number is an increase from 59 total reported spills in 2012, and a decrease from 123 spills reported in 2011.

The latest spill report totals for the entire state in 2013 have not been tallied. The Front Range flood guarantees high spill report numbers. Almost a year ago The Denver Post reported:

Oil and gas have contaminated groundwater in 17 percent of the 2,078 spills and slow releases that companies reported to state regulators over the past five years, state data show.

The damage is worse in Weld County, where 40 percent of spills reach groundwater, the data show.

Most of the spills are happening less than 30 feet underground — not in the deep well bores that carry drilling fluids into rock …

In the year 2012 there were 402 spills reported by oil and gas companies — Toxic Release: Colorado Oil & Gas Spills 2012

New spill reporting rules are helpful but they would not have changed a thing in the Parachute Creek spill. And I don’t see how anything will change in the gas patch until the industry makes a concerted effort to stop making such a mess. As the new study released on Monday shows, the spilled fluids contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals and they are hazardous to public health.

If Lepore is serious about improving the public’s confidence in the COGCC, then they should stop giving out environmental awards to companies with atrociously high spill records.

Benzene Isoconcentration 8/16/2013

Parachute Creek spill — Benzene Isoconcentration 8/16/2013

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