BP America Production Co. has reported four spills of produced water at oil and gas facilities in La Plata County since Oct. 28, according to state records, bringing the total to nearly 20 spills for the year.
The first spill in the recent string of incidents was discovered Oct. 28, north of Colorado Highway 172, about 6 miles southeast of Durango.
According to an incident report, a property owner reported a pipeline leak, and upon inspection, it was determined produced water was flowing into a nearby irrigation ditch and pond, which was reportedly dry.
Produced water is a term that refers to the wastewater byproduct of oil and gas production, which can contain high concentrations of hydrocarbons and carry negative environmental impacts.
Livestock on the property was removed, and BP worked to contain the spill. The company reported an “unknown volume of produced water” was released in the spill, none of which could be recovered.
Inspectors with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission inspected the site. According to state records, water and soil samples were taken.
The next spill was discovered Nov. 4, also off Colorado Highway 172, about 3 miles south of Ignacio.
An incident report says a pipeline released produced water, which ultimately flowed into a nearby arroyo that runs into the Los Pinos River. BP says the pipeline was isolated, but doesn’t know how much produced water was spilled.
Water and soil sampling will be required in that instance, too.
Then, two separate spills were found Nov. 6, according to state records.
One spill happened near County Road 319, about 3 miles southwest of Ignacio, where an estimated 245 barrels, or about 10,290 gallons, of produced water was released, which required BP to create a small berm to stop it.
The other incident occurred near County Road 523, about 6 miles southeast of Bayfield after a pipeline was reportedly found leaking. BP said a little more than a barrel of produced water was released.
BP this year sold its assets in the San Juan Basin natural gas field, which spans Southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico, to a European renewable energy company called IKAV Energy Inc.
But according to COGCC records, BP is still the company filing incident reports.
A spokeswoman with BP wrote in an email to The Durango Herald on Wednesday that BP has responded to produced water releases in La Plata County and made necessary notifications. She said BP continues to operate the assets in the county on behalf of IKAV as the transition takes place.
“The releases were isolated and are contained,” the spokeswoman wrote. “BP remains committed to safe, compliant and reliable operations.”
A request for comment to a Durango-based spokeswoman for IKAV was not returned.
Megan Castle, a spokeswoman for COGCC, said the agency is working with BP on compliance for the spills. She said the two spills that entered waterways will result in Notices of Alleged Violation, which hold possible penalties.
Castle was unable to answer follow-up questions Wednesday, which was a federal holiday.
La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said the county planned to meet with IKAV this fall, but representatives with IKAV canceled, saying they would not be able to meet until the beginning of 2021.
It appears IKAV now has an office in downtown Durango. Lachelt speculated the spills are a result of aging infrastructure.
“My first hunch is that it’s a result of an aging infrastructure and the need for companies to be really paying attention to upgrading a lot of these facilities so they can avoid having these kinds of spills,” Lachelt said.
BP has reported nearly 20 spills in La Plata County this year.
Some spills are minor, releasing only a few barrels of produced water, which in some instances can be cleaned up with a vacuum truck.
Other times, there are on-the-ground impacts. On June 3, more than 60 barrels of produced water spilled into an irrigation field southeast of Bayfield. A small berm was created to contain the spill, and no water was able to be recovered.
On June 25, BP estimated 100 barrels of produced water leaked out of a pipeline into a nearby irrigation canal, north of Ignacio. BP reported it isolated the pipeline and conducted soil and water sampling.
In Colorado, if spills impact waterways, livestock or residential structures, companies typically receive a Notice of Alleged Violation, which starts COGCC’s enforcement process.