2023 Colorado Spills

May 8, 2024

2023 Colorado Spills

May 8, 2024

Since 1999, the amount of drilling-related liquid spilled annually in Colorado has gone down slightly, while annual oil production has gone up over the past decade. This suggests that increasingly-stringent regulations meant to curb spills are effective and do not negatively impact production.

Oil and gas producers in Colorado reported a decrease in drilling-related spills in 2023 as compared to 2022. The amount of oil and drilling-related materials reported spilled in Colorado decreased by 30 percent from 2022 to 2023, and the number of spills reported in Colorado decreased eight percent, from 453 to 414. 

Oil production was up four percent in 2023 compared to 2022, while the total reported volume of oil and drilling-related liquid spilled was down 30 percent. The total number of reported spills in 2023 decreased by nine percent compared to 2022.

Of these spills, 50 percent were in Weld County, which has had the highest percentage of spills in the state each year. These spills impacted communities, with at least 54 occurring within 500 feet of a water well. The number could be higher, as around a quarter of all reported spills were missing information on their proximity to a water well. Similarly, at least 49 spills occurred within 500 feet of an occupied building, but only around half of reported spills included information on their proximity to an occupied building. Finally, at least 86 spills occurred within 500 feet of surface water, but around 25 percent of spills were missing information on their proximity to surface water. Colorado regulators should work to increase compliance with these reporting requirements.

Notably, Kerr McGee reported a 47 percent increase in the number of drilling-related spills it was responsible for in 2023 as compared to 2022.

Because Colorado regulators allow operators to report spill volumes in ranges rather than with distinct values, it’s not possible to calculate the company with the largest percent increase in spill volume for 2023, which is why we used the total number of spills, rather than volume spilled, to calculate percent increase from 2022 to 2023 for the top five spillers in the state. 

A few notes about the data

Colorado allows operators to use a range to report volume data, therefore the volume estimates in this report are minimums. Since spill data is self-reported by the oil and gas companies responsible for the spills, the true number of spills and volume of spilled material in Colorado is likely higher than those included in this report. Finally, the methodology used to calculate this year’s report differs from that of reports prior to 2022. Therefore, data from this year’s report should not be used in combination with data from 2021 and older. Data should also not be compared across states, as reporting requirements and processes differ state to state.

2023 state spills trackers