Oklahoma is No. 2 in Oil Spills

  • Joe Wertz

There were 951 oil spills reported in Oklahoma last year, more than every other major energy state state except North Dakota, EnergyWire reports.

The news service has been trying to count the number of spills in the U.S. and measure their impact, but has been stymied by haphazard reporting of spills, which “are scattered amid databases, websites and even file drawers of state agencies across the country”

EnergyWire spent four months collecting data, and found more than 6,000 spills in 2012, Mike Soraghan reports:

… together they add up to at least 15.6 million gallons of oil, fracking fluid, wastewater and other liquids reported spilled at production sites last year.

That number is “almost certianly an undercount,” Soraghan reports, because states like Oklahoma often exclude the spill amounts.

Here’s EnergyWire’s breakdown of Oklahoma spills 2009-2012.

Oklahoma Oil Spills: 2009-2012

2012: 951
2011: 928
2010: 879
2009: 1,035

More spills were reported in Oklahoma than in neighboring Texas, the country’s leading oil and gas producer:

Texas Oil Spills: 2009-2012

2012: 913
2011: 851
2010: 706
2009: 614

Of course, as EnergyWire points out, these are just the number of reported and recorded spills. One reason North Dakota might have such high spill numbers — 1,129 in 2012 — is because companies have to report every spill of one barrel of oil or larger.

In Texas, it’s five barrels. In Oklahoma, oil and gas companies don’t have to report spills unless they’re 10 barrels or more.

Regulators in Oklahoma and Texas have a similar system for dealing with oil spills, EnergyWire reports:

Commission inspectors place a premium on helping drillers get back into compliance with the rules rather than hitting them with fines.

Oklahoma has a similar compliance-based approach. An inspector succinctly laid out the thinking last year after following up on a spill of 300,000 gallons of oil and wastewater into pastureland.

“Reinspected spill area,” the inspector wrote. “Found spill has been cleaned up. Looks OK. Please close incident. No further action anticipated.”

Environmentalists and other critics say state regulators’ reluctance fails to deter repeat violations.