27,000 gallons of oil spilled amid freak Colorado flooding
Sept 23, 2013 | Raw Story | Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Inspectors have reached a third of state’s 50,000 sites and report eight ‘notable’ spills totalling 27,000 gallons of oil
Inspectors hunting for oil pipelines and oil drums damaged in
Colorado’s epic floods are being “completely overwhelmed” by the sheer
scale of destruction, a member of Congress has warned.
Jared Polis, a Democratic representative from Colorado, said the
state’s regulatory agency was struggling to reach flooded areas and
arrive at a full accounting of the damage and potential leaks to its
50,000 oil wells. Inspectors have so far reached about a third of the
flooded oil fields. Last week, aerial surveys of the flooded area showed
dozens of overturned storage tanks.
“Inspectors are completely overwhelmed. There are only a couple of
dozen in the state and some areas remain inaccessible even today,” Polis
told the Guardian. “The number of inspectors is insufficient to reach all the sites.”
On Monday the vice-president, Joe Biden, spent the day in Colorado,
touring the devastated areas. The body of a 79-year-old woman was found
beside the Big Thompson River, authorities said, bringing to eight the
death toll from the massive flooding.
The state has 17 full-time oil and gas inspectors, although
reinforcements have arrived in the wake of the floods. As of Monday
afternoon, the state’s oil and gas regulator reported eight “notable”
spills over the vast oil and gas area, which it said amounted to a
release of some 27,000 gallons of oil. A statement from the Colorado Oil
and Gas Conservation Commission said: “Wet, muddy and high-water
conditions continue to make access slow and difficult in many areas.”
Todd Hartman, a spokesman for Colorado’s department of natural
resources, said inspectors were still unable to get to many of the well
sites, because roads were washed out or destroyed. “You have operations
that are entirely underwater,” he told reporters.
In addition to the eight known leaks, crews were monitoring about 10
other sites with evidence of a sheen, the state regulatory agency said.
But it said there were at least 33 other locations with damaged
equipment. The agency added: “No estimates of product losses are
available for those sites.”
The industry said it was monitoring the wells by air and from boats,
as well as relying on pressure sensors to monitor conditions inside the
wells. Rushing floodwaters clogged with debris damaged oil gas pipelines
and tanks in a number of locations. But the oil industry said 1,500 oil
wells in the worst affected area were sealed off before the floods hit.
Industry spokespersons also said there were no wells being fracked at
the time of the floods, and there is no known instance of a leak of
Even so, campaigners said there was a risk of spills of oil,
chemicals and other potential contaminants, including run-off from
livestock facilities, in the wake of this month’s flooding. In one of
the biggest known spills, Anadarko Petroleum Corp last week reported
that about 5,225 gallons of oil had spilled into the South Platte River,
near Milliken. A tank farm on the St Vrain River, also operated by
Anadarko, released about 13,500 gallons. It is possible that other
companies have suffered similar problems but have not been able to get
out to assess the damage.
Jonathan Singer, a member of the state legislature from the flood-hit
area who has opposed fracking, said his biggest concern was simply
getting inspectors to all the well sites. “We just don’t have the
resources to get out to every well as quickly as we should be,” he said.
“This was a huge flood and unfortunately it went through the county
where we have the highest proportion of oil [and gas] wells in
© Guardian News and Media 2013