Drilling-related spills up in Wyoming, down in New Mexico and Colorado in 2023

May 9, 2024

The rate of spills in all states has gone down over time, proving strong regulations don’t impede production

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.

Each year, the Center for Western Priorities analyzes state-level data for wells on private, federal, and state land. All three states included in this report require oil and gas companies, or well operators, to file a report each time oil or drilling materials are spilled. New Mexico also requires operators to report incidents of routine and emergency methane venting and flaring (methane waste events).

Operators in New Mexico and Colorado reported a decrease in drilling-related spills in 2023 as compared to 2022, while the number of reported spills in Wyoming went up in 2023. Operators in New Mexico also reported a sharp increase in the volume of methane wasted through flaring.

Over time, the amount of drilling-related liquid spilled in each state included in this report has gone down relative to the amount of oil produced annually. In Colorado, the amount of drilling-related liquid spilled annually has gone down slightly since 1999, while annual oil production has gone up over the past decade. In New Mexico, the amount of drilling-related liquid spilled annually has increased slightly since 2014, while annual oil production has increased steadily. In Wyoming, the amount of drilling-related liquid spilled annually has gone down since 2017, while annual oil production has stayed about the same. This indicates that regulations meant to curb spills are effective and do not negatively impact production.

graph showing CO oil spills and production

graph showing NM oil spills and production

graph showing WY oil spills and production

The Center for Western Priorities released the following statement from Communications Manager and report author Kate Groetzinger:

“Oil and gas companies love to complain about regulations, but the decrease in spills over the past decade as compared to oil production in each state in this report shows that regulations don’t have a significant impact on production.

“Still, any number of drilling-related spills is too much. These spills often contain toxic chemicals that can sterilize land, poison wildlife, and contaminate water. Regulators should keep working to reduce the number of spills in their states.

“New Mexico deserves praise for its efforts to curb methane waste, but it needs to invest more time and money in enforcing its new laws. It’s upsetting to see the amount of methane waste in the state increasing, despite strong regulations meant to curb venting and flaring. Colorado and Wyoming should follow New Mexico’s lead and require operators to report methane waste.”

See the full report for more data and charts for each state.