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Wyoming oil and gas spills were up in 2021 and experts say it's likely due to increased production 

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Stephanie Joyce

Oil and gas-related spills were up five percent for 2021, according to new data from the Center for Western Priorities.

More than $1.6 million gallons of drilling related materials spilled in Wyoming in 2021. About half occurred in Converse and Campbell counties, which are the top producing counties in the state.

“It's just the nature of it, you know, where there's increased activity, you're gonna see an increased chance of something going wrong,” Ryan McConnaughey, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said.

Wyoming did see a slight increase in producing wells in 2021 compared to 2020.

“It's important to compare the amount that spilled to the amount of production, because production changes year-to-year and that obviously has a big impact on how many spills there are,” Kate Groetzinger, Center for Western Priorities communications associate, said.

For example, oil production in Wyoming was down 14 percent and there were 20 percent fewer spills in 2021 compared to 2019.

McConnaughey said Wyoming has strict reporting requirements.

“Obviously what everybody thinks about is an oil tanker. Obviously we don't have those here in Wyoming, but, a pipeline breaking or something like that – those catastrophic accidents that could happen,” he said. “All the way down to 40 gallons of drinking water. It could be potable water, it could be produced water.”

Spills are still a concern because they can contaminate groundwater, said Groetzinger, adding that she would like to see companies report the proximity of spills to surface water and groundwater wells in the state.

The Center for Western Priorities also aggregates oil and gas spill data for New Mexico and Colorado. Groetzinger said in comparison, Wyoming does not have much specific information.

“You can tell a better story when you have more data,” she said. “And when you can tell a better story, people can understand the problems better. And so in Wyoming, it's just hard to really know what's happening.”

The top five companies responsible for nearly half of the spills in 2021 in Wyoming were EOG Resources, Devon Energy, Crowheart Energy, Chesapeake Energy and Merit Energy Company.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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