Oil Spills Have Declined Significantly Over the Past Two Years

Published September 13, 2017

The number of oil spills and other related incidents in the United States declined significantly in 2016.

E&E News found oil spills declined by 17 percent compared to 2015. This continued a trend, with the number of oil spills having declined by 24 percent since 2014. Nationwide, there were 8,519 spills in 2016, an average of 23 per day.

The numbers suggest some of the decline may be the result of a decrease in the number of operating wells. The number of operating oil wells fell by 15 percent from 2015 to 2016, but production per well increased, resulting in less than a 7 percent decline in oil production during that period. By contrast, since 2014, the amount of oil produced has increased modestly while the number of wells declined. As a result, the analysis indicates the ongoing decline in spills is not primarily due to reduced production but rather to cleaner, safer operations.

Of the 14 oil-producing states examined, Texas led the way in reducing spills, with a decline of 26 percent since 2015. Since 2014, the annual number of spills in North Dakota has decreased by one-half.

Acting More Responsibly

Gary Stone, vice-president of engineering for Five States Energy Capital, LLC, says the decrease in spills reflects a greater sense of corporate responsibility.

“While decreased drilling and production is one reason for the decline in spills, another, more important reason is most oil and gas companies have initiated a major change in corporate ethics and responsibility in the past 50 years,” Stone said. “Today’s culture demands careful consideration of the environment.

“Much of the push for improved, cleaner operations began as oilfield development encroached upon inhabited areas,” said Stone. “New and better equipment, designed to prevent spills and waste, preventing losses and improving profits, is the primary reason for the improvement.”

Michael McGrady ([email protected]) writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.