Despite missing data from one of the largest natural gas-producing states in the nation, an EnergyWire analysis released Monday found that the U.S. oil and gas industry was responsible for at least 7,662 spills, blowouts, and leaks in 2013 — an average of about 20 spills per day.
The figure represents an 18 percent increase in the number of spills EnergyWire counted in 2012, when 6,546 accidents were tallied. Though most of the spills were small, their combined volume added up to more than 26 million gallons of oil, gas, hydraulic fracturing fluid, and other substances, the report said.
The increase in drilling accidents since 2012 is particularly jarring because the United States has not actually seen an increase in drilling sites. According to January data from the American Petroleum institute, the total number of wells in the country in 2013 stayed largely the same, actually decreasing one percent since 2012.
The decrease, according to API, is because the U.S. drilled substantially less gas wells in 2013, but increased its oil drilling — a trend seen most notably in Montana. There, spills were up 48 percent, largely in line with the 42 percent increase in rig count figures. In North Dakota’s booming Bakken Shale, though, spills jumped by 42 percent while rig numbers dropped 8 percent, another startling figure apparently driven by hasty, irresponsible development.
“We still have this mentality that we have to go faster and faster,” Don Morrison of the environmental group Dakota Resource Council, told EnergyWire. “When you’re rushing, things go wrong.”
Despite exhaustive state-by-state analysis of data, EnergyWire was unable to retrieve spill information from Louisiana, because the state did not apparently have an accessible list of spills. Louisiana officials reportedly told the publication that the information could be found in a Coast Guard’s National Response Center database, which is shut down. The state has not yet fulfilled EnergyWire’s March 21 Freedom of Information Act request for the data.
The lack of information from Louisiana is especially troubling given the amount of potential the state has for spills. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Louisiana was second only to Texas in 2013 in both total and operating refinery capacity, and also has an enormous industrial sector consisting of multiple refineries and petrochemical plants. Louisiana in 2011 was one of the country’s top natural gas producers, accounting for a little under 10 percent of total natural gas production in the nation.
As EnergyWire’s report notes, data for each state’s spill records are difficult to compile. There is no national database for oil spills or other fossil fuel-related accidents. (An exhaustive Nexis search was required for ThinkProgress’ list of the 45 worst fossil fuel disasters of 2013.) Each state reports spills differently — some requiring official public records requests, and some charging money for the information.
And even that information is not always comprehensive. According to an October report in the Associated Press, nearly 300 oil spills and 750 “oil field incidents” that occurred in North Dakota since January 2012 went unreported to the public. Like many other oil-producing states, North Dakota regulators are not obliged to tell the public about oil spills under state law.