As oil and gas operations ramp up in Colorado, so do oil spills – but residents rarely find out about them. According to an analysis conducted by the Denver Post, in 2014, the state has an average of 2 spills per day.
Using data from a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) database, the Post calculated that 521 spills have already been reported this year. The Commission had some objections to that number, cited an “accounting error” and claimed that the real number of spills is actually 467 – still going in at about 2 per day. 2014 is set to break last year’s record of 577, but perhaps even more shocking is the fact that oil companies aren’t required to publicly report these spills – that is a task which officially belongs to the government.
To me, this is outrageous. Of course the state should be involved and communicate information to the population as much as possible, but having an oil company make a mess and then not have to disclose it is not normal; and people would surely like to know about these spills, as 142 of the nearly 2,500 spills reported since January 2010 contaminated surface water, and at least 375 contaminated groundwater, and 1 actually spilled into a river.
Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute industry trade group recently announced new standards encouraging companies to communicate more robustly with communities, but of course, that doesn’t include oil or gas spills – and penalties are not that high either. Out of the 577 oil spills that took place in 2013, penalties were imposed for 34 cases with an average fine of $34,118 for rule violations, records show.
Conservation Colorado executive director Pete Maysmith is trying to fight the lack of transparency, and develop a system for accurate notification of residents and media whenever there’s an oil spill.
“These oil and gas companies are engaging in a heavy industrial activity — right over the backyard fence in some instances. And with that comes the responsibility of telling people who could be affected when something goes wrong,” Maysmith said.
“We hear a lot from the industry about how they want to build trust. That’s been an industry talking point. Are they ever going to succeed in building trust? A starting point would be full and transparent communication — including when that is bad news like a spill.”