The Mountain West’s top energy states saw nearly 3,000 oil and gas-related spills in 2018
In Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming, oil and gas producers spilled an average of 2,694 gallons of crude oil per day
As the Trump administration continues to spur oil and gas production, lands, waters, and communities around the West are feeling the impacts. A new analysis from the Center for Western Priorities pulls back the curtain on oil and gas-related spills in the West’s top oil-producing states: Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming. In 2018, these states reported a total of 2,834 spills, comprised of 230,696 barrels of material — amounting to an average of 2,694 gallons of crude oil and 17,015 gallons of produced water spilled every day. Over the past four to six years, spills increased slightly in Wyoming, decreased slightly in Colorado, and fluctuated significantly in New Mexico.
In New Mexico, oil and gas-related spills were concentrated in the northwestern and southeastern corners of the state. Eddy and Lea Counties, home to a drilling boom in the Permian Basin, were disproportionately affected, experiencing 707 and 571 of the state’s 1,523 spills, respectively. The next highest county, San Juan, had 169 spills. Similarly, Colorado spills were concentrated in Weld County, the epicenter of the mineral-rich Denver-Julesburg Basin, whose 361 spills dwarfed the next highest county (Garfield, with 45 spills). In Wyoming, spills affected nearly every county in the state, with only three spill-free counties.
In each state, the five operators reporting the most spills are responsible for over 40 percent of the total spills. While the ranking shift annually, the same operators are consistently in the top five in their respective states.
As oil and gas production expands, it increasingly overlaps with communities and the natural resources they rely on. Spills are mostly comprised of crude oil and produced water, which often contains toxic chemicals. However, they also contain a variety of other materials, from drilling fluid to diesel. In Colorado, 45 percent of spills were within 1,500 feet of a building, and 410 spills were within half a mile of a water well.
New Mexico’s natural gas production is a significant source of methane emissions. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, contributing significantly to climate change. In 2018, 247 million cubic feet of natural gas was released in the state, which is the equivalent of 13,622 metric tons of carbon dioxide. In addition, leaked gas will never make it to market, resulting in lost revenues owed to taxpayers for the extraction of their natural resources.
As oil and gas production encroaches on Western communities and prized public lands, our leaders should be working to strengthen — not undermine — common-sense standards to protect our water, outdoor spaces, and communities.
The Center for Western Priorities analyzed publicly available data from Colorado and New Mexico, and requested data from Wyoming, on oil and gas-related spills between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018. This data provided information on location, number and volume of spills, cause, and operators responsible for the spills.