Oil and gas industry still causing too many spills per day nationwide

Back in 2011, a CBS News investigation found that the U.S. average for spills at oil and gas sites was at least 18 per day (and that did not include every state). Sadly, the oil and gas industry hasn't cleaned up its act.

A recent investigation by EnergyWire found an average of more than 20 spills per day, and that was using data from only 15 states--half the states where fracking has been occurring. EnergyWire found more than 7,600 spills in 2013 in these 15 states. Some data by state:

  • In North Dakota spills increased 42 percent from 2012.
  • In Montana, spills were up 48 percent.
  • In Pennsylvania, spills increased 60 percent, but industry and state officials say that is due to changes in reporting requirements.
  • In Ohio, the number of spills doubled.

In addition to the EnergyWire report, the Center for Western Priorities just released a new map of spills in Colorado and New Mexico. According to the Center: "The map plots over 13,600 spills in Colorado and New Mexico between 2000 and 2013. Together, the spills released nearly 102 million gallons of oil, drilling fluids and other toxic materials into the environment. An additional 1,668 spills could not be mapped because of reporting errors. Over the last thirteen years, Colorado experienced more than 4,900 spills—that’s 350 spills each year or about one per day. In New Mexico, there were more than 10,300 spills in that same timeframe, or 740 spills per year."

In New Mexico, none of these spills have led to fines for the responsible party (New Mexico law makes it difficult to charge fines). A ten million gallon spill of oil wastewater in 2010 was not even reported by the responsible company, but was reported after being noticed by a medivac flight.

These spills are clear evidence that the oil and gas industry is not placing a priority on protecting the environment, and that there seems to be a cavalier attitude about the need to stop spills in the first place. It's also clear that regulators are not doing their jobs well enough to protect clean water, land, and public health, whether due to limited capacity or some other reason. Strict enforcement with meaningful penalties is essential to rein in these constant spills.