By Edward McAllister and Selam Gebrekidan
Sept 19 Political and environmental pressure
mounted on energy companies in Colorado on Thursday, as
officials tried to assess the damage from oil and gas spills
that followed last week's heavy flooding.
Regulators were tracking 10 oil spills in the north-central
portion of the state, where eight people have died and thousands
have been displaced, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation
Commission (COGCC) said in a statement on Thursday.
The COGCC described two spills as "notable", the rest as
The full extent of the damage was still unclear as workers
struggled to gain access to some of the worst-hit areas, but
leaks were beginning to be reported from well sites ravaged by
Images of tanks that store oil or drilling fluids, unmoored
and floating in mud-brown floodwater, have raised concern among
local residents, environmentalists and
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 production technique known as
hydraulic fracturing, or fracking - a newer feature in the state
where energy output is on the rise.
Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water,
chemicals and sand 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 is stored in the kind of
tanks that have been seen floating away in the Colorado floods.
Some companies in Colorado, including Encana Corp.
and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. do 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.
OIL SPILLS, GAS LEAKS
A storage tank owned by energy company Anadarko spilled an
estimated 125 barrels of oil into the flood-swollen South Platte
River in north-central Colorado, the COGCC said on Wednesday.
Separately, 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 on Tuesday from a
300-barrel-capacity storage tank.
Anadarko deployed absorbent booms to the spills, but oil
"In both cases, it appears the oil left the site in
floodwaters," the COGCC said in its statement Thursday.
Noble Energy Inc said it had identified three wells
that were leaking natural gas following the floods last week.
Two of the compromised wells were shut on Wednesday, but a
third that appeared to be leaking a "limited" amount of gas
could not be safely accessed for shutdown, the company said in a
statement on 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.
Oil and gas was one of myriad problems facing the state as
the cleanup continued, regulators said.
"These spills are not an unexpected part of many other
sources of contamination associated with the flood," the COGCC
said. "Those include very large volumes (millions of gallons) of
raw, municipal sewage and other hazards associated with
households, agriculture, business and industry."