There were at least 6,648 spills (the number that were reported) at hydraulically fractured (fracked) oil and gas wells in the 4 US states of New Mexico, Colorado, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania between the years 2005 and 2014, according to a new analysis published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
To put the findings in a slightly different way, every year, between 2% and 16% of all hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells spill “hydrocarbons, chemical-ladem water, hydraulic fracturing fluids, and other substances.”
“This study provides important insights into the frequency, volume, and cause of spills,” commented lead author Lauren Patterson, a policy associate at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
The analysis was performed by examining state-level spill data in the 4 states in question between the years of 2005 and 2014 — altogether, data from 31,481 wells that were fracked.
“State spill data holds great promise for risk identification and mitigation,” continued Patterson. “However, reporting requirements differ across states, requiring considerable effort to make the data usable for analysis.”
“As this form of energy production increases, state efforts to reduce spill risk could benefit from making data more uniform and accessible to better provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills.”
Here’s more from the press release on the matter: “North Dakota reported the highest spill rate, with 4,453 incidents, followed by Pennsylvania at 1,293, Colorado at 476 and New Mexico at 426. The number of spills reported is partly a reflection of the reporting requirements set by each state. For example, North Dakota required reporting smaller spills (42 gallons or more) than Colorado and New Mexico (210 gallons or more).”
Very notably, the analysis findings greatly exceed the estimates provided by the US EPA for 8 states between the years of 2006 and 2012 (457 spills), as the EPA’s analysis only takes into account spills that occur during the hydraulic fracturing stage itself.
With regard to the new analysis, roughly 50% of the spills identified occurred in relation to the storage and transport (via pipelines) phases. As noted by the press release, though, “it was not always possible to determine the cause of the spill because some states explicitly required this data to be reported while others relied on narrative descriptions.”
Unsurprisingly, the first 3 years of well activity (when production was highest) were when most spills occurred. Also unsurprising is that wells that experienced at least one spill often experienced further spills as well — meaning that negligence seems likely to be a primary cause of spills at many wells.