Oil- and Gas-Related Spills Increased 16% in Colorado in 2022, Report Finds
The Center for Western Priorities’ annual Western Oil and Gas Spills Tracker report shows that Colorado’s oil and gas industry is trending in the wrong direction on drilling-related spills.
A report from a Denver-based environmental group shows that Colorado’s oil and gas industry is trending in the wrong direction on drilling-related spills.
The Center for Western Priorities’ annual Western Oil and Gas Spills Tracker report counted 473 spills reported by operators to state regulators in 2022, a 16% jump from 2021. It was the second year in a row that the figure has risen, as drillers continue to rebound from the sharp decline in production that followed the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
“Oil and gas companies in both New Mexico and Colorado appear to be polluting more than ever, while posting record profits,” Kate Groetzinger, the Center for Western Priorities’ communications manager and the report’s author, said in a statement. “The number of drilling-related spills and amount of methane wasted by the oil and gas industry should be going down each year, not up.”
Colorado producers pumped over 157 million bbl of crude oil in 2022, according to data released last month by the US Energy Information Administration. That’s a slight uptick from 2021, but still well below the state’s peak production of over 192 million bbl in 2019.
Most of the material spilled by producers in Colorado and other Western states, the report found, is produced water—the muddy, brackish byproduct of oil and gas extraction, often as a result of hydraulic fracturing. Produced water may contain a wide variety of contaminants. Reported volumes of produced water spills were up 163% in Colorado in 2022, which “could indicate an increase in fracking activity,” the analysis said.
“The fact that drilling-related spills have increased in Colorado while production has remained level is troubling, especially in a state that prides itself on its recently enacted oil and gas reforms,” Groetzinger said.
Colorado regulators have enacted a sweeping set of changes to oil and gas rules in the wake of landmark environmental legislation passed by Democratic lawmakers in 2019, including increased setback distances between new wells and buildings and more authority for local governments to restrict drilling sites.