“Routine” Spill Report Highlights Threats to Health and Environment

“An unknown amount of oil, produced water and condensate spilled. Waters of the state were impacted.”  This description of a spill near the Saddleback Golf Course in Firestone is listed without capitals letters or exclamation points in a biweekly Greeley Tribune article listing the spills reported by operators to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) over the previous two weeks.  There are no major newspaper headlines about this spill that Kerr McGee Oil & Gas Onshore LP found while plugging and abandoning a historical tank battery on July 18.  Yet the level of benzene in a groundwater sample four feet below the ground surface “exceeded the COGCC Table 910-1 allowable level for benzene at a concentration of 74.8 μg/L.”  In fact, the benzene level of the groundwater was 15 times greater than the COGCC’s allowable level.  Benzene is ““carcinogenic to humans.”  (See page 22-23 at http://cogcc.state.co.us/documents/reg/rules/latest/900series.pdf)

In another reported incident involving a tank battery spill about 10 miles southeast of Kersey, “about 137 barrels of produced water spilled less than 500 feet from a stream off Riverside Reservoir.”  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Produced waters are waters pumped from wells and separated from the oil and gas produced.  The radioactivity levels in produced waters from unconventional drilling can be significant and the volumes are large.”  Bonanza Creek Energy Operation Company LLC reported that a dumpline failure caused the spill.

In addition to revealing that such “routine” spills threaten to make the water supply unsafe, the biweekly report also points out the lack of precise spill size reporting required by the COGCC.  According to the “Weld County oil and gas spill report for July 23,” there were three spills where “between five and 100 barrels of oil spilled” and one spill where between five and 100 barrels of produced water spilled.  That was all within two weeks in Weld County.