Across New Mexico, Oil and Gas Companies Reported 1,477 Spills in 2015

May 5, 2016

By Center for Western Priorities

Drilling for oil and gas has boomed in New Mexico in recent years. Unfortunately, so have the negative impacts of drilling, including oil spills and air pollution. New analysis from the Center for Western Priorities finds that last year oil and gas companies reported an average of four spills per day across New Mexico.

According to publicly available data from the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division, there were 1,477 reported spills in 2015, an 87 percent increase since 2011 and a 5 percent increase over 2014. While this number is significant, it is important to note that some spills go unreported.

Spills Graphic_1

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 go sterile for years. In 2015, an average of 11,550 gallons of produced water was spilled each day in New Mexico, or roughly eight gallons per minute.

Last year 363 releases of natural gas were reported in the state, a 38 percent increase from the previous year. The emissions from those reported leaks and flares are equivalent to driving 11,000 cars for a year. Reducing natural gas leaks and flares is critical. Not only do companies waste a product they can sell, they deprive taxpayers of royalties on wasted gas. States such as Colorado, along with the federal government, have recently moved forward with efforts to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

Spills Graphic 2

While New Mexico continues to see increasing numbers of spills, the state lacks the capacity to adequately inspect wells. A 2015 report by Inside Energy found that New Mexico only had 14 inspectors to monitor roughly 60,000 active wells, meaning wells are rarely, if ever, inspected. According to New Mexico’s Oil Conservation District, roughly 49,000 inspections were conducted in 2015.

Oil and gas production will continue in New Mexico, particularly when oil prices inevitably go up. In the meantime, leaders in New Mexico and around the country must to do everything in their power to reduce toxic spills and air pollution from oil and gas development.