6 Investigates: Oklahoma's 'Largest Oil And Gas Drilling Spill Of Its Kind'

Tuesday, November 18th 2014, 7:06 pm
By: News On 6

This summer Oklahoma experienced what regulators think is the largest oil and gas drilling spill of its kind, when more than 21,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid spilled into a farmer's alfalfa field.

In a hearing later this week, state regulators will hear from the companies they believe are responsible for the pollution.

We wanted to know how often spills like this happen in Oklahoma and found it's less often than you may think.

There are a number of spills reported every day in Oklahoma, but very few of that size.

The spill near Hennessey happened just as crews were about to hydraulically fracture a well.

A state report says a valve was left open at the start of the frac job causing the spill, and no one noticed until 480 barrels worth were on the ground.

To Jason Hawk and his wife, it's more than a spill; it's the devastation of their alfalfa crop and an uncertain future for their soil, land and water where they had hoped to one day build a home.

"I don't foresee that happening. Because at one point, you wake up in the morning and you're not going to have anything left because they're going to have it all tore up," Hawk said.

Blake Production Company, based out of Oklahoma City, is the driller on Hawk's land. The company will have to pay for the cleanup, which involves removing all of the impacted soil - in this case 267 truckloads - and replacing it with new soil.

According to state records, Blake Production Company was responsible for seven spills and leaks at various wells in the eight months prior to the spill.

But this is the only "Summons and Notice of Citation for Contempt," showing regulators at the Corporation Commission never tried to fine the company until the acid spill on the Hawks' land.

8/13/2014 Related Story: Oklahoma Regulators File Contempt Charge Against Company For Chemical Spill

Tim Baker is the head of the oil and gas division at the Corporation Commission. He said the state tries to work with companies first, issuing several warnings before filing contempt charges and ultimately fining them.

"If an operator keeps having the same problem over and over again, well, obviously we're not getting his attention and need to take it up a notch and go the legal route to see if we can get their attention," Baker said.

In Oklahoma there are 170,000 active oil and gas wells. In 2013 there were 860 confirmed spills - that's less than one percent. State regulators only issued fines for 96 of those spills, which is about 11 percent.

"From time to time we are going to have spills, so I don't see it as an exorbitant problem in Oklahoma," he said.

Baker adds that acid spills are pretty rare; in fact, there were just four much smaller acid spills, last year.

Produced water or salt water spills are the most common, making up about 82 percent of the state's largest spills.

"Salt water can be more expensive to clean up if you have numerous spills in the same spot. It destroys the topsoil. The topsoil will literally blow away. There won't be any top soil," Baker said.

He said his agency has added more inspectors to keep up with growth in oil and gas drilling and said spills are just part of the industry.

After several delays, the Corporation Commission will hear from both sides of the Hennessey case on Friday.