Saturday, September 17, 2011

Four oil and gas companies responsible for 350 spills named "outstanding operators" by regulators

As gas and oil drilling accelerates along Colorado's heavily-populated Front Range, state regulators named four companies to be "Outstanding Operators" and lauded them for environmental excellence.

But the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulators' records show that those companies are responsible for more than 350 spills since January 2010. One of them, Andarko subsidiary Kerr-McGee, released cancer-causing benzene and other chemicals three times last month in Weld County — contaminating land and water.

The awards given by the COGCC exemplified a collaborative regulatory approach that Colorado relies on to protect its environment with a record-high 45,793 wells and companies drilling about eight more a day.

A Denver Post analysis in progress has found that spills are happening at the rate of seven a week - releasing more than 2 million gallons this year of diesel, oil, drilling wastewater and chemicals. Yet state regulators rarely penalize companies responsible for spills — issuing only five fines for spills this, for spills that happened three or more years ago.

For years, industry leaders and state officials have hailed Colorado's regulations as among the best in the nation.

Now experts who helped craft those regulations question whether they'll be sufficient because companies are drilling about 3,000 new wells each year. For example, current rules allow drilling within 350 feet of subdivision homes and 300 feet of public drinking water supplies — with no limits on drilling by streams. more