COGCC Awards to Companies with Spill Records are Questionable

Aug 15, 2013

By Center for Western Priorities

Last week, during the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s annual summit, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state’s oil and gas regulator, showed up at an industry conference to hand out environmental awards to companies responsible for many of the state’s oil and hydrocarbon spills.

In 2012, six companies, Kerr McGee (Anadarko), Noble Energy, Encana Oil and Gas, WPX Energy, PDC Energy, and Pioneer Natural Resources, were responsible for 62 percent of all of the spills in Colorado. Four of those companies received awards last week, calling into question COGCC’s decision to make the awards and the nature of the commission’s relationship with the industry it is charged with overseeing.

It’s understood that no oil and gas company will be problem-free. And, in theory, there is nothing wrong with a regulator using carrots along with sticks.

But, the COGCC is supposed to place a priority on continually improving drilling safety in Colorado, and it’s not clear how these awards advance that priority.

Anadarko, PDC Energy, WPX Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources all appear with frequency in the state’s COGIS spill database. Pushing these companies to reduce the more than 130 spills they were responsible for in 2012 should be the regulator’s top priority. But that doesn’t seem to be on COGCC’s agenda.

Award: Technology applications/community relations/local government coordination

Recipient: Kerr McGee (part of Anadarko)

Anadarko acquired Kerr-McGee Corporation in 2006. In 2012, Kerr-McGee was linked to 70 spills, 38 percent of which resulted in water contamination. Seventeen percent were within 500 feet of a building. Equipment failure was listed as the cause of 39 of 70 (55 percent) spills reported by the company in 2012, while human error was reported as the cause of 17 spills (24 percent). Together they accounted for 80 percent of all of the company’s reported spills in 2012.

Award: Winner for Environmental Protection and Regulatory Compliance

Recipient: PDC Energy

There were 27 spills linked to PDC Energy in 2012, 92 percent of which were the result of equipment failure. One spill was linked to operator error. Forty-eight percent of those spills resulted in water contamination and 26 percent of them were within 500 feet of a building.

Award: Environmental Protection and Waste Minimization

Recipient: WPX Energy

WPX Energy was linked to 21 spills in Colorado in 2012. Over 80 percent of the spills linked to the company were the result of equipment failure or human error. Five of those spills (24 percent) were within 500 feet of surface water, and three of them (14 percent) were within 500 feet of a building. Just a couple of months ago, WPX reported a 2,100 gallon spill of contaminated water two miles south of the Colorado River. Most of the contaminated water was absorbed into the soil.

Award: Pipeline/Gathering System Project

Recipient: Pioneer Natural Resources

Of the 21 spills recorded by Pioneer Natural Resources in 2012, 10 contaminated surface water. Human error accounted for 67 percent of Pioneer’s spills recorded in 2012, and equipment failure was responsible for 24 percent