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Oil leak concerns after Colorado floods

Posted in Public Health

As if the recent Colorado floods that claimed eight innocent lives, forced thousands from their homes, and caused over $2 billion in property damage had not been sufficiently catastrophic, the New York Times now reports that 37,000 gallons of oil have spilled due to “swamped wells, broken pipes and [flood waters sweeping] huge oil tanks off their foundations.”  The Denver Post also cites that “1,900 oil and gas wells shut as crews check damage”.

While Tisha Conoly Schuller, the president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, told the New York Times that “In the context of hundreds of billions of gallons of rain, and millions of gallons of raw sewage, 37,000 gallons is pretty small”, Jack Healy – the author of “After the Floods in Colorado, a Deluge of Worry About Leaking Oil” – NY Times” makes the some good points:

“…environmental advocates say the groundwater, soil and rivers may now be stained by oil, and they have criticized state regulations that allowed drilling pads to be set alongside rivers and streams in the first place. While state rules require those tanks to be firmly anchored, many did not survive a direct blow from rivers swollen with trees, rocks and other debris.”

So, while the oil contamination damage caused by theses floods was minimal, the oil spill in Colorado can be a guide for future well and tank site decisions – placing oil wells and tanks in floodplains may be not be the best idea.  There are also clear economic reasons for keeping oil wells out of floodplains: according to an interview Tisha Schuller gave NPR published on the Clean Water Action page, the closed oil wells represent “about 14 percent of the oil production” for that region.  A 14% drop in production is never good for business.

An excerpt from that NPR report, titled “In Wake Of Colo. Floods, A Scramble To Clean Up Spilled Oil”:

“The state of Colorado and the oil and gas industry has made a terrible mistake,” says Gary Wockner of the environmental group Clean Water Action. “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.”