Annual analysis finds drilling-related spills and methane waste surged in 2022, along with oil industry profits.
The press release below states that there was a record number of drilling-related spills in Colorado in 2022. That record was actually set in 2014, based on data going back to 2013. There were more spills in Colorado in 2022 than in the previous two years (2021 and 2020).
Please also note that the record number of spills reported in New Mexico in 2022 is based on data going back to 2018.
DENVER—Across the West, spills from oil and gas extraction take a toll on lands, waters, wildlife, and communities. In Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming—the Mountain West’s top oil and gas-producing states—companies report thousands of spills each year, which release toxic materials such as crude oil and polluted water.
According to a new analysis by the Center for Western Priorities, companies in New Mexico and Colorado reported a record number of drilling-related spills in 2022, while the number of reported spills in Wyoming decreased as compared to 2021. Companies in New Mexico also reported a record number of methane waste events as compared to 2021 (the first year for which this data was available due to improved reporting requirements).
The Center for Western Priorities released the following statement from Communications Manager and report author Kate Groetzinger:
“Oil and gas companies in both New Mexico and Colorado appear to be polluting more than ever, while posting record profits. The number of drilling-related spills and amount of methane wasted by the oil and gas industry should be going down each year, not up.”
“While New Mexico regulators deserve credit for cracking down on methane waste, it’s apparent that the problem is bigger than they realized. Strong enforcement is required to ensure the state realizes its goal of ending routine venting and flaring by 2026.
“The fact that drilling-related spills have increased in Colorado while production has remained level is troubling, especially in a state that prides itself on its recently-enacted oil and gas reforms.
“While it’s good to see a drop in the number of drilling-related spills in Wyoming in 2022, the state should continue to monitor spills and ensure that its reporting requirements are capturing an accurate picture of how many spills are actually occurring there.”
Oil production in Colorado was relatively level in 2022, while the total reported volume of oil and drilling-related materials spilled increased 24 percent. The amount of oil reported spilled was down 53 percent, while the amount of produced water reported spilled was up 163 percent as compared to 2021. There were at least 453 spills in Colorado in 2022 and 408 spills in 2021—an 11 percent increase in spills year-over-year. This is a record number of spills for the state and indicates Colorado has regressed in spill reduction.
Notably, PDC Energy reported a 290 percent increase in the number of drilling-related spills it was responsible for in 2022 as compared to 2021. Over the same period, PDC Energy reported a 15 percent increase in profit, from $1.5 billion in 2021 to $2.8 billion in 2022.
Oil production in New Mexico was up 23 percent in 2022 as compared to 2021, while the total reported volume of oil and drilling-related materials spilled was up 16 percent. Meanwhile, there were at least 1,455 spills in New Mexico in 2022 and 1,368 spills in 2021—a six percent increase in spills year-over-year. This is a record number of liquid spills in the state.
Notably, Occidental Petroleum, also known as Oxy, reported a 92 percent increase in the volume of drilling-related liquid it spilled in 2022 as compared to 2021. Over the same time period, Occidental’s profits increased seven-fold, going from $1.5 billion to $12.5 billion thanks to surging oil and gas prices.
In May 2021, New Mexico adopted new rules that prohibit routine venting and flaring and require operators to achieve a 98 percent gas capture rate by 2026. New Mexico also changed reporting requirements for methane waste in May 2021, requiring producers to report all flaring and venting incidents. For the purposes of this report, the number of venting and flaring incidents and the amount of methane waste reported in New Mexico from July 1 to December 31 in 2021 was compared to the amount of methane waste reported over the same period in 2022.
The amount of methane produced in New Mexico was up 17 percent in the second half of 2022 as compared to the same period of 2021, while the volume of reported methane wasted through venting and flaring was up 30 percent. The number of reported venting incidents was up 18 percent and the number of reported flaring incidents was up 65 percent in the second half of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.
Notably, Earthstone Operating reported a 3,768 percent increase in methane waste in the second half of 2022 as compared to the same time period in 2021, an increase of 988 million cubic feet.It also reported the highest volume of methane waste of any company operating in New Mexico for the second half of 2022. Earthstone’s profits increased tenfold from 2021 to 2022, going from $61 million to $650 million.
Oil production in Wyoming was relatively level in 2022, while the total reported volume of oil and drilling-related materials spilled was down 40 percent. The amount of oil reported spilled in Wyoming was down 14 percent, while the amount of produced water reported spilled was down 22 percent. Meanwhile, there were at least 521 spills in Wyoming in 2022 and 642 spills in 2021—a 23 percent decrease in reported spills year-over-year.
Notably, Carbon Creek Energy reported a 198 percent increase in the amount of drilling-related liquid it spilled in 2022 as compared to 2021. Carbon Creek does not report its annual profit information; however, its parent company, US Realm, filed for bankruptcy in October 2019 and has since received significant tax and royalty relief.