Colorado communities are still reeling from the epic rainfall that caused deadly flooding last week. But in addition to the thousands of damaged homes, buildings and washed out roads and bridges, another major concern are the many oil and gas wells that were flooded.
On Saturday, The Denver Post reported an oil pipeline had burst and was spilling crude into the flood waters:
Oil drums, tanks and other industrial debris mixed into the swollen river flowing northeast. County officials did not give locations of where the pipeline broke and where other pipelines were compromised.
While the water levels in the South Platte appear to be receding slightly, bridges over the South Platte have been closed as water overflowed the bridges at least as far east as Morgan County.
Oil and gas industry crews have been monitoring wells drilled into the flood plain east of Greeley in Weld County.
One pipeline has broken and is leaking, Weld County Emergency Manager Roy Rudisill. Other industry pipelines are sagging as saturated sediment erodes around the expanding river.
Industry crews "are shutting in the lines, shutting in the wells," Rudisill said.
In a statement, Gary Wockner, of Clean Water Action, said "Fracking and operating oil and gas facilities in floodplains is extremely risky. Flood waters can topple facilities and spread oil, gas, and cancer-causing fracking chemicals across vast landscapes making contamination and clean-up efforts exponentially worse and more complicated."
Diane Sweet also reported on this and asked, "Why is there such a heavy presence of the fracking, oil and gas industries in a floodplain? It's as if there was no forethought at all to the potential complications of flash-flooding."
Quick aside: this concern over drilling in a flood zone is the same reason Arkansans are concerned about an industrial hog farm being built near the Buffalo National River. All it takes is one flood to contaminate the river and wherever the flood waters happen to flow.
Back in Boulder, on Monday, Erica Meltzer at The Daily Camera reported on how the flood waters had reached fracking wells.
The concentration of oil and gas wells in flood-prone areas speaks to one more risk of what [environmental activists] see as a dangerous industry.
Regulators say they agree these well sites could pose a contamination risk, and they will get out to assess the damage as soon as it's feasible.
Of course, by now it is too late to prevent contamination. The damage has been done.
Lafayette-based anti-fracking activist Cliff Willmeng said he spent two days "zig-zagging" across Weld and Boulder counties documenting flooded drilling sites, mostly along the drainageway of the St. Vrain River. He observed "hundreds" of wells that were inundated. He also saw many condensate tanks that hold waste material from fracking at odd angles or even overturned.
"It's clear that the density of the oil and gas activity there did not respect where the water would go," Willmeng said. "What we immediately need to know is what is leaking and we need a full detailed report of what that is. This is washing across agricultural land and into the waterways. Now we have to discuss what type of exposure the human population is going to have to suffer through."
According to The Daily Camera, Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources claims "many operators have added security to tanks, like chains to make sure they don't float away." However, The Daily Camera also notes that "aerial photographs have shown floating and drifting tanks in some flooded areas."
After a flood like this, simply getting clean drinking water can be a serious challenge. Now, in addition to digging their ruined homes and possessions out of the mud and wreckage, Coloradans (and anyone downstream) have to worry about toxic chemicals from gas and oil wells getting mixed into the groundwater and on farmland. What a mess.
There are already enough problems with fracking to justify banning the drilling practice in certain areas. What has happened in Colorado just adds to that argument. This should be a lesson for towns and cities across the US that have allowed fracking to take root in their communities. Don't allow the oil and gas industry to drill in a flood plane.
The Denver Post reported that at least 5,250 gallons of crude oil spilled into the South Platte River during the flood.
Industry crews have placed absorbent booms in the South Platte River south of Milliken where at least 5,250 gallons of crude oil has spilled from two tank batteries into the flood-swollen river.
Nearly 1,900 oil and gas wells in flooded areas of Colorado are shut, and 600 industry personnel are inspecting and repairing sites, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. Crews are inspecting operations, conducting aerial and ground surveillance, identifying and determining locations of possible impairments, the association said Tuesday.
The Denver Post now reports that there are at least 10 spills being tracked by the state, including 13,500 gallons that spilled near Platteville.
UPDATE III: Diane Sweet posted this video from radio journalist Scooter McGee that reportedly shows a ruptured gas line releasing gas into the flood waters and atmosphere
What a disaster.
IMAGE: LONGMONT, CO - SEPTEMBER 16: Mary Ellen Briscoe, 81, of Longmont, Colorado pauses in her garage as she looks over historic family photos trying to dry that were flooded in her basement. as residents clean up in the wake of a week of heavy flooding on September 16, 2013 in Longmont, Colorado. More than 600 people are unaccounted for and thousands were forced to evacuate after historic flooding devastated communities in Colorado. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)