Earlier this week, The Common Sense Canadian brought you the underreported story of flood damage to oil and gas infrastructure in Colorado – featuring photos taken by a local group concerned about toxic chemicals and hydrocarbons leaking into rivers and farmland, in the wake of the state’s catastrophic storm.
Today, we bring you new aerial photos of the wreckage, taken Tuesday over hard-hit Weld County by Colorado conservation photography group EcoFlight.
Colorado is one of a dozen or more states that have been part of the controversial “fracking” boom across the United States and around the world. The state’s recent flooding raises the question: should fracking operations be located in a floodplain – especially one with a history of major floods?
Moreover, what oil and gas-related environmental and health impacts are really occurring as a result of this disaster?
Despite the lack of mainstream media coverage of the issue, we do know from the Denver Post of one confirmed pipeline rupture and at least 5,250 gallons of crude oil spilled into the South Platte River from two tank batteries ripped open by the flood.
According to The Post:
[quote]The flood that began late last week toppled dozens of oil and gas storage tanks and swamped other production facilities at sites in the flood plain. Earlier this week, oil drums, some empty, some full, could be seen floating in the river as far east as Kersey.[/quote]
Representatives for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said Tuesday that nearly 1,900 oil and gas wells in the affected areas have been shut, with industry personnel inspecting and repairing sites.
That does little to reassure Cliff Willmeng of the local anti-fracking group East Boulder County United, who noted earlier this week, “Many of these chemicals are carcinogenic, neurotoxic, and known disruptors of the human endocrine system. As of today there is no testing taking place, industrial, independent or otherwise to determine the extent of the contamination, nor any talk of it.”
In a follow-up conversation today, Willmeng indicated industry and government authorities have done nothing to allay his concerns:
[quote]What’s perfectly clear here is that the industry is going to act on this disaster in terms of damage control. They’re not prepared to respond to this – they don’t have the labour power, the technical resources or the motivation. This needs to go to higher authorities – the oil and gas industry can’t be the authority on the environmental assessment and remediation of Weld County.[/quote]
A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Todd Hartman, downplayed the risks of contamination from open storage pits for toxic frack fluids, noting there are relatively few of these pits in the region of the flood. “We are assessing the impact to open pits, including building a count of how many pits may have been affected,” said Hartman.
Pennsylvania State University petroleum engineering professor Robert Watson also tried to calm the fears of people like Willmeng, telling The Globe and Mail, “The amount of wastewater is so small compared to the amount of water passing through there, and compared to the chemicals used in farming.”
[quote]These statements are highly speculative…State authorities don’t even know the scale of the damage yet – nor do they have the people required to properly investigate the situation. What we’re seeing here is a classic game of passing the buck, downplaying the actual damage in an attempt to allay the fears of the public.[/quote]
His organization and others are calling for an immediate statewide moratorium on oil and as activity. In addition, “we’re calling for the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission to end its litigation and harassment of communities protecting themselves by denying oil and gas activity.” The groups have created a petition to this effect.
There are currently five communities in Colorado voting on ballot initiatives to create moratoriums or outright bans of oil and gas activities.
All photos below courtesy of EcoFlight. See more aerial images on their website here.