Energy company spills total 495 in state for 2013, group claims

Oil and gas companies reported 495 spills in Colorado last year, a nonpartisan group says, an apparent significant increase over 2012.

Those included 278 spills in Weld County and 71 in Garfield County, which respectively are first and second in the state for both total well numbers and level of current drilling activity.

The Center for Western Priorities, which advocates for responsible conservation and energy practices in the West, released statewide data on a newly launched spill tracker at its website, http://www.westernpriorities.org. It plans to update the data monthly, summarizing information from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s database.

The organization found that 71 spills last year impacted groundwater and 41 impacted surface water across the state. One spill in Garfield County affected groundwater and one affected surface water last year, it found.

It said six spills occurred in Mesa County and one in Delta County, with none of those affecting ground or surface water.

The county breakdowns weren’t immediately included on the group’s tracker but the group plans to include them going forward, according to Dave Georges, a public relations agent representing the Center for Western Priorities.

The COGCC didn’t confirm the group’s figures, but if accurate the total spill count would be a sizable increase from 399 in 2012 and comparable to the 493 reported in 2010. In 2011, 527 were reported, the most dating back to at least 2003. Spill numbers generally have increased over the last decade as the state’s active well count has shown dramatic growth.

Statewide, the center found that 373 of last year’s spills were the result of equipment or human failure.

“We can have responsible energy development, but we have to be realistic about the risks,” the center’s policy director, Greg Zimmerman, said in a prepared statement. “Now, more than ever, we need to ensure companies are held to the highest standards and we have to be thoughtful about where we permit companies to drill.”

In December, the COGCC formally adopted into its rules a new law requiring reporting within 24 hours of all spills of a barrel (42 gallons) or more if no secondary containment exists. It also decided to require reporting within 24 hours of all spills of five barrels or more — a requirement previously applying to spills of 20 barrels or more.

Previously spills between five and 20 barrels could be reported within 10 days, with no reporting requirements for smaller spills, except in certain situations. The agency requires reporting within 24 hours of any spills that impact or threaten waters of the state, occupied structures, livestock, public byways or surface water supply areas.

The agency said the new rules will improve its ability to track and respond to spills and boost public confidence in its ability to protect the public and the environment.

Statewide, the Center for Western Priorities says, 65 of last year’s spills were more than 1,000 square feet in size, and 136 occurred within 500 feet of surface water, with 20 of those taking place in Garfield County. Sixty-three statewide were within 1,500 feet of livestock, and 225 occurred within that distance from buildings. For Garfield County, six spills came that close to livestock and 32 that close to buildings.

Zimmerman said his group’s numbers “show oil and gas operations were responsible for more than one spill each day last year. The spill tracker brings transparency and accountability to Colorado’s oil and gas spill problem.”


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