Thousands of Gallons of Oil Released into Colorado Floodwaters

By Samantha-Rae Tuthill, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
September 24, 2013; 1:14 PM
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After a week of devastating flooding, which washed out roadways and destroyed buildings, Colorado residents are now facing the threat of contaminated waters.

The northeastern corner of Colorado, which contains numerous gas and oil wells and active drilling sites, has been inundated with rushing water.

Gary Wockner, Colorado program director for Clean Water Action, said it will take days for the flood waters to recede enough to assess the contamination damage adequately.

"Once those chemicals hit flood water, they get across a large swath of the landscape," Wockner said. "Our big concern is oil and gas, and fracking chemicals, in the water. We have seen photos of oil slicks on top of the floodwaters and we are continuing to monitor all of the flooding and cleanup efforts. Oil, gas and fracking chemicals are poisonous to people and animals, and could pollute farms and drinking water supplies."

He said that at least a thousand gas wells have reportedly been flooded. Weld County alone, which has taken on some flooding, is home to more than 18,000 gas and oil wells.

Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) said that over 1,900 wells were either shut in or stopped production, and that all the operators have an emergency response plan.

A statement on the COGA website issued at 9 p.m. MDT on Sept. 18 said that two tank batteries damaged by flood waters, with about 5,250 gallons of light-oil released in flood waters associated with the South Platte River and the St. Vrain River. They are working with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, National Response Center and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor clean up efforts.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) had teams out investigating 10 oil releases, according to a statement issued by Todd Hartman. He reported that two of those releases are notable, while the rest are considered minor.

The notable cases include 125 barrels from an Anadarko storage tank south of Milliken, and another Anadarko storage tank that released 323 barrels, containing 13,566 gallons, north of Firestone on the St. Vrain River.

Genevieve Marquez, left, and Miranda Woodard help salvage and clean property in an area inundated after days of flooding, in Hygiene, Colo., Monday, Sept. 16, 2013. Colorado mountain towns cut off for days by massive flooding slowly reopened Monday, to reveal cabins toppled, homes ripped from their foundations and everything covered in a thick layer of muck. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Water treatment and sewage centers have also been flooded, which had led to boiling advisories for some mountain communities where the initial surge took place. Boil advisories used to clean water in other contamination zones won't work for areas that may have been affected by leaked fracking chemicals or gas and oil well overflows. Wockner said the best way to avoid the health hazards associated with these containments is to avoid the affected water and by drinking filtered tap or bottled water.

Mountainous communities get their water from those mountains, but containments can enter rivers and flow across the counties to impact people with well water.

The EPA responded to questions about their involvement in surveying the contamination risks, stating that they are "beginning to assess water quality impacts from various sources, including oil and gas production."

Wockner said, "It's great news that the EPA is engaging. We have serious concerns that because the state has so few inspectors and regulators, the industry is out there 'self policing.' We need EPA to step in and make sure the public and environment are protected."

The EPA is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and local resources to assess how the flooding has impacted drinking water and waste water.

RELATED:
Understanding Fracking: Arguments for and Against Natural Gas Extraction
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Why Was the September 2013 Colorado Flood So Bad?

Residents were asked to continue to taking precautions against the possibility of West Nile virus, due to the increased rainfall and flooding. Low levels of virus activity in Colorado commonly continue through September and into October, Boulder officials said.

The flooding has claimed seven lives, according to the Colorado Department of Emergency Management.

Fewer than 65 people remain unaccounted for, as of 8 p.m. EDT Sunday, the management office reported.

According to AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski, conditions will improve for rescue efforts throughout the weekend. The weather should stay clear and dry through to most of Sunday.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Samantha-Rae Tuthill at tuthills@accuweather.com, follow her on Twitter @Accu_Sam or Google+. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

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