An average of two spills per day puts Colorado communities and outdoor spaces at risk
Report by Greg Zimmerman, Center for Western Priorities
DENVER — Spills from oil and gas operations in Colorado reached 712 last year, according to the 2014 Toxic Release Tracker issued on January 13, by the Center for Western Priorities (CWP). The new data reveal that oil and gas companies were responsible for two spills every day in the state, together releasing more than one million gallons of oil and other chemicals.
“This is the third year we’ve tracked oil and gas spills in Colorado, and it’s a continuing reminder that the benefits of today’s oil boom come alongside significant risks to Colorado’s communities and outdoor spaces,” said Greg Zimmerman, Policy Director at CWP.
The Toxic Release Tracker summarizes publicly-available data on spills that occurred in Colorado in 2014. Key findings include:
* 11% of spills resulted in water contamination
* 203 spills occurred within 1,500 feet of a building, such as a school or home
* 51 spills contained more than 5 barrels, or 210 gallons, of oil
* 5 operators were responsible for the majority of spills: Noble Energy, Kerr McGee, WPX Energy, Pioneer Natural Resources, and Bonanza Creek.
At 123 spills, Noble Energy caused the most spills of any operator in Colorado.
* 66% of spills occurred within just two counties:
Weld County and Garfield County—two Colorado counties known for intensive oil and gas development—had the highest number of spills last year, at 346 and 128 spills each.
The other counties with the highest spills were Rio Blanco (53 spills), Las Animas (52 spills), and Adams (24 spills).
The Toxic Release Tracker results come two days before Governor Hickenlooper’s Oil and Gas Task Force holds its final public meeting in Greeley. The Task Force has been meeting since September of last year to determine how best to balance Colorado’s energy boom with the need to safeguard communities and landscapes.
“The Oil and Gas Task Force has a rare opportunity to provide leadership and strike a balance between oil and gas development and the long-term well-being of Colorado’s communities and our renowned lands,” continued Zimmerman. “The risk of spills is one of the major ways that residents in the oil patch bear a disproportionate burden from the state’s energy boom. It’s precisely why they deserve a say in how and where development takes place.”
As of January 2014, oil and gas companies had reported 495 spills for 2013 (this number was later adjusted to 600 spills). Companies reported 402 spills in 2012. The spike in spills from oil and gas operations in Colorado can be attributed to a lower spills reporting threshold, which took effect during the summer of 2013, and to increased oil and gas activity.
While data compiled by the Toxic Release Tracker is publicly available, information on spills often does not make it to the impacted communities. To increase public awareness, the Toxic Release Tracker will be shareable via social media and available on the CWP website for use by local governments and community associations. Additionally, a map of spills that occurred between 2000 and 2013 is available here: Western Toxic Release Map.
… The COGCC last month reported an even higher amount — 759 — through just the first 11 months of the year.
The center’s policy director, Greg Zimmerman, said the discrepancy might result from some duplicate documents it found in going through the COGCC data …
… State Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman said, “COGCC requires all spills be investigated, remediated and any impacts addressed.”
Besides tightening the spill reporting thresholds, it has added inspectors and environmental specialists to ensure spill response work is conducted in compliance with its rules, he said.