DENVER — The oil and gas industry is responsible for thousands of drilling-related chemical spills in Colorado and New Mexico between 2000 and 2013, according to a new interactive map, called the Western Toxic Release Map, released today by the Center for Western Priorities (CWP). For the first time, the map visualizes the frequency with which companies accidentally release toxic chemicals onto land and into water while drilling for oil and natural gas in the Rocky Mountain West.
Over the past 13 years, there were over 15,000 spills in Colorado and New Mexico, with more than 4,900 spills in Colorado and more than 10,300 spills in New Mexico. That means that, on average, there was about one spill every day in Colorado and two spills each day in New Mexico. The Western Toxic Release Map plots more than 13,600 of these spills. Together, the spills released more than 100 million gallons of oil, drilling fluids and other toxic materials into the environment.
“These numbers shine a spotlight on the oil and gas industry’s significant spill problem. Part of responsible energy development is holding companies to the highest standards and minimizing the release of toxic materials onto land and into water,” said Greg Zimmerman, Policy Director at the Center for Western Priorities. “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.”
Along with the interactive map, the Center for Western Priorities also released the inaugural edition of the New Mexico Toxic Release Tracker, which details the causes of the 934 chemical spills in the state during 2013 and provides a snapshot of spills so far in 2014. Equipment failure was the most common cause of spills last year, resulting in 391 spills. In total, 592 spills, or 63 percent of all spills, occurred in southeastern New Mexico’s Eddy County where development is booming in the Permian Basin.
The New Mexico Toxic Release Tracker, which is a summary of data from the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division data, comes on the heels of the Colorado Toxic Release Tracker that CWP released in January 2014. Since January 1, the Colorado Toxic Release Tracker has identified 156 spills reported by oil and gas companies, with 84 spills occurring within 1,000 feet of surface water and 63 occurring within 100 feet of groundwater. CWP will update the spill trackers on a monthly basis, providing communities and policymakers with an up-to-date picture of the location, size and contents of drilling-related chemical spills.
“People living near oil and gas operations should know when and where chemical spills are happening. Regulators in Colorado and New Mexico deserve credit for creating a transparent online system to track spills. Spills happen with great frequency—that’s why we need to be deliberate about where we allow companies to drill,” said Zimmerman.
CWP plans to track oil and gas spills in other Rocky Mountain states, but unlike Colorado and New Mexico’s systems that feature online spill reports, data is not readily available. In Montana, for example, reports are available only in hardcopy at the state regulator’s office.