Publicly available data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) indicates there were 509 spills in 2016, more than one per day. The number of spills last year marked a decline from the 615 reported spills and incidents in 2015, reflecting the decrease in drilling activity.
As drilling and production increase in Colorado—which is expected as the price of oil and gas may increase in the coming years—we also expect to see spills increase. Monitoring these incidents help to inform Coloradans about the impacts of oil and gas development within the state.
In 2016, operators reported 257 spills of “produced water,” salty wastewater often laden with toxic chemicals, along with 115 spills involving oil and 60 spills of condensate. Noble Energy reported the most spills, followed by Kerr McGee and Pioneer Natural Resources. Combined, the five companies reporting the most spills accounted for nearly half of all incident reports.
The vast majority of spills reported, 82 percent, took place on private land. Nearly half of all spills took place in Weld County.
In reporting oil and gas spills, Colorado requires companies to disclose the distance from livestock, wetlands and occupied buildings, something not required by neighboring states, such as New Mexico and Wyoming.
Nearly 32 percent of all spills occurred within 1,500 feet of an occupied building, including 50 incidents that occurred less than 500 feet from an occupied building. 58 incidents reported impacts to groundwater and 200 incidents occurred within 1,500 feet of a water well.
The Center for Western Priorities analyzed spill/incident reports that were filed with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission with spill dates listed between January 1 and December 31, 2016. Data from COGCC’s online database was accessed on January 25, 2017.