Torrential rain earlier in the month caused mass flooding across the state of Colorado, a state that in recent years has experienced a boom in oil and gas drilling and production due to the development of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies.
Thousands of wells have been drilled across the state, and whilst operators shut off any equipment located in flood-prone areas, so far more than 37,000 gallons of oil have spilt as a result of damage caused by the floodwater, and the states oil and gas industry is rushing around trying to clean up the leaks as fast as possible.
Many holding tanks have been toppled, spilling their contents. Dan Kelly, the vice president of Noble Energy’s department in the state, said that “there was a tremendous amount of I think earth moved in some cases to where the foundations to some of these tanks actually washed out underneath them.”
Noble has reported four separate spills of a total of almost 9,000 gallons of oil. Kelly explained that in some areas the water has washed away the oil downstream, but in many others they are working to clean-up the spilled oil, and there are also some sites still remain inaccessible and therefore they cannot yet begin any clean-up operations.
Kelly also stated that “due to the water, due to the currents, due to some of the other issues with potential pollutants — bacteria and some of the things we're very concerned with — we have not aggressively pursued trying to get into some that still have risk.” (Related article: Is Colorado’s Fracking Industry at Threat from the Floods?)
The bacteria, from raw sewage and animal waste, have been washed into the rivers by the floods and pose a serious health threat. State officials warn everyone to stay away from the water, but that is not an option for the oil and gas industry.
Colorado’s oil and gas regulatory body has several teams working to access the floodwaters, and the energy companies are performing aerial surveillance to search for more spills, and determine the damage to equipment. Currently 12 ‘notable’ oil leaks are being monitored.
Environmental groups are hoping that due to the damage caused by the floods they will be able to convince state officials to reconsider the rules about where oil and gas drilling sites can be placed in flood plains.
Gary Wockner, from Clean Water Action, said that “the state of Colorado and the oil and gas industry has made a terrible mistake. If there's any silver lining here, it's that we have the opportunity to change that as we move forward and create much better regulations that would protect the public, and the environment, and of course our water source as we move forward.”