Oil and gas spill continue to ravage parts of Colorado in the wake of the severe flooding last week.
Regulators were tracking 11 oil spills in the north-central portion of the state, where eight people have died and thousands displaced, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) said Thursday.
Three new spills totaling at least 7,600 gallons had been discovered as flood waters recede. Regulators are now tracking 11 notable leaks totaling at least 34,500 barrels, mostly from storage tanks that toppled or otherwise failed.
The full extent of the damage was still unclear as workers struggled to gain access to some of the worst-hit areas, but officials are now reporting leaks from well sites hit by torrential rains.
Images of tanks that store oil or drilling fluids, unmoored and floating in mud-brown floodwater, have raised concern.
The spills in Colorado present a “major public health issue”, Congressman Jared Polis of the second district of Colorado said in a letter to the COGCC. “In light of the serious conditions on the ground, the industry, at a minimum, must disclose all chemicals that may be contaminating soil and groundwater,” he said.
Fertilizer and pesticides and sewage all pose a major threat to the environment after the rains, but much of the worry surrounds the oil and gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Fracking pumps millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure deep underground to fracture shale rock deposits that hold vast amounts of oil and gas. Large amounts of that water returns to the surface and ends up stored in the kind of tanks floating in the Colorado floods.
Some companies in Colorado, including Encana Corp. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. disclose the fracking chemicals used in Weld County wells, according to Frac Focus, a website where energy firms can list substances they use. The drilling fluids contain hydrochloric acid, benzyl chloride and many other chemicals.
A storage tank owned by energy company Anadarko spilled an estimated 125 barrels of oil into the South Platte River in north-central Colorado, the COGCC said on Wednesday.
Denver-based Kerr-McGee Oil and Gas Onshore company, a unit of Anadarko, reported the spill of an unknown volume of condensate into the South Platte last Tuesday from a 300-barrel-capacity storage tank.
Anadarko deployed absorbent booms to the spills, but oil still escaped.
“In both cases, it appears the oil left the site in floodwaters,” the COGCC said in its statement Thursday.
Noble Energy Inc. discovered three wells that were leaking natural gas following the floods last week.
Two of the compromised wells shut down Wednesday, but a third that appeared to be leaking a “limited” amount of gas could not down because it was not safe to get to, the company said Wednesday.
Noble operates more than 8,000 active wells in the DJ Basin in Colorado. Between five and ten percent of those wells have been shut in due to the flood.