Nearly 1,900 wells shut down as floods inundate oil and gas fields
EVANS, Colo. — With Colorado’s richest oil and gas field devastated by severe flooding, the industry is working hard to allay the concerns of northern Colorado residents unnerved by upturned tanks and flooded fracking sites.
Nearly 1,900 wells have been shut down, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, which launched a website Tuesday to engage citizens looking to report or track possible problems.
Simultaneously, some 600 inspectors are surveying wells in the flood zone by air, land and, in many cases, boats.
“As flood waters recede, we will be continuing to take inventory of situations and respond to them immediately,” said Tisha Schuler, COGA’s CEO who herself took part in a Twitter Q&A session Tuesday aiming to answer questions about the industry’s response.
But many concerned residents, especially those who are already opposed to further oil and gas development along the northern Front Range, aren’t easily mollified, not with myriadpictures of flooded oil and gas installations popping up online.
“I think the public just needs to be aware there is a danger there,” said Carl Erickson with the citizens group, Weld County Air and Water. “People need to know — there are oil and gas products in the water that is flowing through your town.
According to COGA, no fracking operations were taking place in the flood zone when the storms hit.
Residents are less worried about fracking fluids deep beneath the surface and more concerned about possible petroleum products leaking from tanks and pipes above ground.
“That water can get in the river and flow into the South Platte,” Erickson said. “And as the river recedes, the oil and gas is going to be deposited on the crops.”
In the Denver-Julesberg basin, an area that’s seen a $4 billion investment from the oil and gas industry, around 50 wells were operating when the storms first hit.
But a majority of them were shut in on Wednesday, the first night of heavy rains, according to Schuler.
“On Wednesday night when the flooding began, the oil and gas industry set up incident command centers and started shutting in oil and gas wells,” she told FOX31 Denver. “What that means is that when flood waters hit, oil and gas would be unable to flow to the surface if there’s a breach.
“We have thousands of wells, but as far as we know, there’s been no major incident.”
But Schuler acknowledges that it’s hard to assess any potential problems and spills until the flood waters recede.
“They can’t get to these sites that are inundated to turn them off if they’re actually on,” Erickson said. “We probably shouldn’t have had the oil and gas development in a flood plain to begin with. That would have been the prudent thing.
“But, it’s done now. Now we have deal with the result of having made that decision.”