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Oil spills: common calamity or controlled information

By Lydia Gilbertson | Google+

Nobody likes oil spills. Oil companies gain an irresponsible stigma from them, and environmentalists deplore them. They are bad for the environment and human health, and cost an exorbitant amount of money to clean up. Recently The United States has seen a sharp increase in energy production and along with that has come a drastic increase in oil and gas related spills and disasters. Oil and gas companies often say that they are working as hard as they can to contain, prevent, and clean up oil spills. Apart from the PR nightmare presented by Kinder Morgan last week, there is no such thing as pro-oil spill.

However, often the spills that are reported are not collected. Each state has their own system in place for dealing with spills, blowouts, leaks, or other environmental hazards caused by the oil and gas industry. Some states don’t disclose oil spill reports, some don’t compile them at all, some charge money for the information, and some post it freely on the internet. Each state has a different system in place for dealing with the information. The frivolity and secrecy of the structure in place for the disclosure of oil spills needs to be reformed. The statistics of oil and gas related natural disasters should be easily available to the public, because it directly affects them.

Both Louisiana and Pennsylvania, which are ranked second and fifth in natural gas production in the United States, claim that they have no list of oil spills available. Energywire recently did an indepth analysis of the oil spills that occurred in the United States in 2013. When they asked these states about their statistics, Pennsylvania provided a bulk figure with no specifics and Louisiana pointed to a database that is shut down and is no longer functioning. As a result, their analysis to have limited data on Pennsylvania gas production mishaps, and none on Louisiana.

Related: Los Angeles Oil Spill Sends 10,000 Gallons Of Crude Into City Streets

The Ron Burgundy well spill in Tioga this week showcases another way that oil spill information is kept from the public. The well was no longer spewing oil on Tuesday, but it is still leaking oil today. Little is known to civilians about this spill because the well is under a confidentiality agreement that allows the owners of the well to not release the extent of the spill until the agreement is up on August 4. ThinkProgress interviewed Alison Ritter of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources about the agreement, and she stated that all that is required to be released is the well’s name, owner, file number, coordinates, and date that information about the size of the spill can be disclosed. She also noted that if the spill were deemed a safety hazard to the public the confidentiality agreement would be lifted. Eighteen percent of North Dakota’s oil wells are confidential.

Despite Louisiana being left out of the report, Energywire concluded that spill numbers had increased by 18% in 2013 although the number of drilling operations has mostly evened out. There were 7,662 spills, blowouts, leaks, or other mishaps in the states with the highest amount of drilling activity. That is an average of 20 incidents a day in the United States. There are a few different events that are considered spills in the report. Small oil spills of over 1 barrel and fracking wastewater (brine) spills are also included. Spills are caused by many factors, not just human error. They are also commonly a result of natural disasters, frozen pipes, and flooding. 20 spills in the U.S are even attributed to Cattle.

Three quarters of last years’ spills were contained on the well site of origin.

State Number of Spills in 2013 Number of Spillsin 2012
North Dakota 1,607 1,129
Texas 1,129 1,010
Oklahoma 850 994
New Mexico 777 847
Colorado 534 402
Pennsylvania 589 365
Wyoming 528 487
Utah 404 193
Kansas 358 324


** Louisiana is not included in this chart because no information about their spill amount could be obtained. Source: Energywire

Continental Resources is company with the highest spill rate in the Bakken Shale, but they are also the largest operator in the area and saw a 39 percent increase in their production in 2013.

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