Colorado flooding spurs oil spills

Hundreds of oil, natural gas wells have been shuttered

By

Published:

 

DENVER — Colorado's flooding shut down hundreds of natural gas and oil wells in the state's main petroleum-producing region and triggered at least two spills, temporarily suspending a multibillion-dollar drilling frenzy and sending inspectors into the field to gauge the extent of pollution.

Besides the possible environmental impact, flood damage to roads, railroads and other infrastructure will affect the region's energy production for months to come. And analysts warn that images of flooded wellheads from the booming Wattenberg Field will increase public pressure to impose restrictions on drilling techniques such as fracking.

"There's been massive amounts of growth in the last two years and it's certainly expected to continue," Caitlyn McCrimmon, a senior research associate for Calgary-based energy consultant ITG Investment Research, said of Colorado oil and gas drilling. "The only real impediment to growth in this area would be if this gives enough ammunition to environmentalists to rally support for fracking bans, which they had started working on before this."

Two spills were reported by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. -- 323 barrels, or 13,500 gallons, along the St. Vrain River near Platteville, and 125 barrels, or 5,250 gallons, into the South Platte River near Milliken, federal and state regulators said. The St. Vrain feeds into the South Platte, which flows across Colorado's plains and into Nebraska.

In both cases, the oil apparently was swept away by floodwaters. Both releases involved condensate, a mixture of oil and water, said Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Matthew Allen.

The environmental damage still was being assessed, but officials in Weld County, where the spills took place, said the oil was just one among a host of contaminants caught up in floodwaters washing through communities along the Rocky Mountain foothills.

"Everybody is oil and gas, but our concern from the county is raw sewage," spokeswoman Jennifer Finch said.

Anadarko workers had tried to contain the South Platte spill by putting absorbent booms in the water, but state officials said only residual oil was collected.

Company spokesman John Christiansen said Thursday the company was trying to reach other well sites rendered inaccessible by the flooding.

A 4-inch Anadarko natural gas pipeline began leaking late last week after the ground washed away around it. Christiansen said the pipeline was shut down and the leak was contained.

More reports of problems in northern Colorado's oil patch could emerge once floodwaters recede and inspectors can access more sites, Allen said.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates the industry, also found some tanks that shifted or moved off pads but said most tanks and well pads were intact.

The state's northern plains took the brunt of the flooding after record rains pounded the Rocky Mountain foothills to the west. The area is home to Colorado's top oil patch, the Denver-Julesburg Basin, which includes the Wattenberg Field. The once largely rural area has become more populated as the state has grown.