A new study co-authored by Harvard Environmental Policy Initiative Director Kate Konschnik in the journal Environmental Science & Technology used state-level data to assess the scope and frequency of spills at hydraulic fracturing wells. The research also uncovers the inconsistent state reporting schemes for well spills, which Konschnik calls “scattershot.”
Using data from four states, the authors analyzed spills associated with unconventional oil and gas development at 31,481 hydraulically fractured wells from 2005 to 2014. Their analysis identified 6,648 spills in those states, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania, over 10 years. The study found that 2 to 16 percent of fracking wells in the four states spill annually. North Dakota had the highest reported spill rate, with 4,453 incidents over the decade. Across all states, the spill risk is highest in the first three years of the well’s production.
The authors conclude that improved requirements for reporting spills at hydraulic fracturing sites could help to identify and avoid spills, as well as mitigate environmental harms. While reporting rates varied by state, this study provides critical insight into the frequency of spills associated with hydraulic fracking — and the paucity of data on those incidents across the country. The authors conclude that along with better data collection, transparency in data sharing and analysis will also be increasingly critical to reducing future spills.