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Drilling into fracking spill rates

by Jessica Morrison
February 27, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 9

Spills associated with unconventional oil and gas production processes, which include hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, numbered in the thousands between 2005 and 2014, according to a recent report. Lauren A. Patterson of Duke University and her colleagues analyzed spill data from more than 30,000 unconventional oil and gas wells in Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2017, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b05749). In contrast with the Environmental Protection Agency, which reported fewer spills in its studies of the hydraulic fracturing process, the authors included all stages of development related to unconventional oil and gas wells. Spill data collected from the four states show 6,648 spills of “drilling waste, chemicals, hydraulic fracture solution, saltwater, freshwater, oil products, diesel, equipment oil, and unknown” substances between 2005 and 2014. Two-thirds of these spills were in North Dakota, which had an overall spill rate of 12.2%, the highest in the study. Equipment failure, environmental conditions, and human error were among the reported causes of the spills. Because reporting requirements vary from state to state, the authors recommend standardization to help stakeholders “identify and prevent spill risks and mitigate potential environmental damage.”


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