Companies report nearly 1,000 spills in Colo.

DENVER — Oil and gas companies have reported almost 1,000 spills to Colorado regulators over the past 2 1/2 years, totaling 5.2 million gallons of drilling liquids and oil.

They ranged from small oil leaks from half-closed valves to thousands of barrels of tainted water that escaped from pits.

It’s far from the volume of oil now shooting into the Gulf of Mexico, but a Denver Post analysis of state spill reports shows that even far from offshore, drilling for oil can regularly create unintended messes:

•  Produced water extracted along with natural gas and frac water used in the drilling process were the most common substances spilled. They accounted for nearly half of the spills, 461, and about 85 percent of the amount

• One hundred eighty-two spills got into groundwater and 82 into surface water. Another 10 reached groundwater and surface water. Most of the groundwater impacts were in Weld County, many of them from historic spills discovered when replacing or moving well equipment.

• Weld County and its 15,000 oil wells had the most overall spills, with 365 — more than one in every three spills in the state. However, Garfield County had the most material spilled, 66,386 barrels, mostly drilling liquids and water used in natural-gas exploration.

• The spills have led to only two fines so far, both for 2008 spills by the same company that fouled springs on the Western Slope. The fines totaled nearly $650,000.

Environmental groups said they are worried about the cumulative effect of so many spills.

“To believe we can have a lot of little spills and a lot of big spills and that we’re not going to see a really, really big impact is to ignore the reality of the risks of this industry,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel for the Wilderness Society in Denver.

David Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said many of the spills are small with no real environmental impact, while the state requires remediation for spills that affect the ground and water sources.

The state requires companies to routinely report spills of 5 barrels or more. If a spill occurs near a populated area, companies must report even smaller ones.


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