While production of oil in Wyoming remained steady in 2015 and production of natural gas fell, communities across the state continue to experience the impacts of drilling, including oil and brine spills. A new analysis from the Center for Western Priorities finds that oil and gas companies in Wyoming reported 626 spills in 2015, an average of 12 per week.

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According to data from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC), more than 160,000 gallons of oil were spilled throughout the year, an average of 440 gallons each day. The companies reporting the most spills in 2015 were Memorial Production Operating LLC, Anadarko, and EOG Resources.

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Throughout the drilling process, wells produce more than just oil and gas. One of the largest byproducts, “produced water,” is salty water trapped in underground formations, often laden with toxic chemicals. While this wastewater is usually pumped back underground for disposal, produced water spills can kill vegetation and cause land to become sterile for years. In 2015, more than four million gallons of produced water were spilled, an average of 12,232 gallons per day.

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Going forward, Wyoming must increase transparency in the reporting of spills, so the public has a more accurate understanding of drilling impacts. Unlike other Western states, such as Colorado and New Mexico,the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission does not currently publish electronic spills data. The agency could easily remedy this problem by following the lead of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and provide oil and gas toxic release information online.

While credit should be given to the WOGCC for providing CWP with data upon request, this information should be readily accessible by the public.

Oil and gas production will continue in Wyoming and with it there will be spills. That’s why we need strong rules in place to ensure sensitive resources and communities are protected from the impacts of drilling. Wyoming officials should also do everything possible to reduce toxic spills from oil and gas development, while making sure the public is aware of spills and understands the impacts of drilling.

Written by on Wednesday, October 5th, 2016