Report details multiple spills in Piceance Basin

Industry improving, regulators say

A new report says oil and gas companies spilled 5.6 million gallons of wastewater, oil and other substances in the Piceance Basin from 2001–10, but state regulators say the industry has done much to cut down on such incidents over that time.

The Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance said companies reported 992 spills during that time period in Garfield, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties. About 91 percent of the total was wastewater that can contain contaminants, according to the group’s report, based on data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The majority of the spills — 535 — occurred in Garfield County, which saw the most drilling of any county in the state during much of that decade. There, about 3.5 million gallons of fluids were spilled, and nearly 2 million were unrecovered.

A sizable part of the county’s amount came from one spill alone. During the winter of 2007–08, an estimated 1.26 million gallons of fluid used in hydraulic fracturing spilled from a Marathon Oil pit into a tributary of Parachute Creek.

About 2 million gallons of fluids spilled in Rio Blanco County during the decade, in 409 spills, the group said. In Mesa County, 130,200 gallons were spilled in 48 incidents.

The incidents included 77 cases of contaminated groundwater or surface water, the report said. Garfield County alone saw 45 cases of surface water contamination and 11 cases of groundwater contamination.

The report found that equipment failure was to blame for 49 percent of the spills, and human error caused at least 23 percent of them.

Gaspar Perricone, co-director of the Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance Action Fund, said in announcing the findings that he has hunted and fished in the Piceance Basin and “seen firsthand the devastating effects of these spills and accidents.”

David Neslin, director of the oil and gas commission, said his agency will consider the report because of the importance of protecting water resources. But he added, “The industry has materially improved its performance in this area in recent years.”

In Garfield County, about 90 percent of drilling pads approved this year will use closed-loop drilling systems that eliminate pits, the source of many spills.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in an email, “Most employees within the natural gas business are hunters and sportsmen. So it’s no wonder our members take very seriously our commitment to continuously improve our environmental record in the Piceance Basin.

“This is a message we shared with Mr. Perricone when he worked for Senator (Mark) Udall (D-Colo.), and it’s the message we share with him now.”


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