Flooding in the Wattenberg gas field

September 16, 2013

Colorado, floods, oil & gas industry

Wattenberg FieldAs the rains and floods rage on unabated on the Front Range countless homes, bridges, and roads have been damaged or washed away completely. Thousands of people have been evacuated and displaced. Hundreds of people are unaccounted for. Meanwhile another disaster is unfolding in the Wattenberg gas field, the location of more than 20,000 oil & gas wells.

On Saturday two photos appeared in The Denver Post that set off alarms among many disaster-weary residents. While most people saw this photo of a man rescuing his horses in the floodwaters, environmental activists saw the toppled, partially submerged condensate tank in the background.

Greeley resident Tommy Meyer leads one of his horses to safety as floodwaters from the South Platte River swamped his farm at 22378 Highway 34 east of Greeley on Sept, 13, 2013. [Photo by Doug Conarroe, North Forty News]

Greeley resident Tommy Meyer leads one of his horses to safety as floodwaters from the South Platte River swamped his farm at 22378 Highway 34 east of Greeley on Sept, 13, 2013. [Photo by Doug Conarroe, North Forty News]

In this photo a floating tank leaks hydrocarbons on a flooded farm in Weld County.

Weld County, CO – Saturday morning, September 14, 2103 [Photo By Andy Cross/The Denver Post]

Weld County, CO – Saturday morning, September 14, 2103 [Photo By Andy Cross/The Denver Post]

On Friday and Saturday Lafayette resident and activist Cliff Willmeng drove around Weld and Boulder County shooting photos and videos of the damage in the Wattenberg gas field and then posted them on East Boulder County United’s Facebook page.

Toppled tank in Weld County

Toppled tank in Weld County [Photo courtesty Cliff Willmeng]

Since yesterday the photos and videos have gained national attention on social media sites and blogs and the news is gradually spreading around the world. However, aside from two newspaper articles, the flooding in the Wattenberg gas field is getting very little media attention.

We know there’s a broken pipeline in Weld County – but nobody knows where it is.

Colorado flooding: Evacuations, broken oil pipeline in Weld County

… Oil drums, tanks and other industrial debris mixed into the swollen river flowing northeast. County officials did not give locations of where the pipeline broke and where other pipelines were compromised …

… Oil and gas industry crews have been monitoring wells drilled into the flood plain east of Greeley in Weld County.

One pipeline has broken and is leaking, Weld County Emergency Manager Roy Rudisill. Other industry pipelines are sagging as saturated sediment erodes around the expanding river.

Industry crews “are shutting in the lines, shutting in the wells,” Rudisill said.

In a statement, Gary Wockner, of Clean Water Action, said “Fracking and operating oil and gas facilities in floodplains is extremely risky. Flood waters can topple facilities and spread oil, gas, and cancer-causing fracking chemicals across vast landscapes making contamination and clean-up efforts exponentially worse and more complicated.”

On Friday, Encana and Anadarko announced they had shut down hundreds of wells in the Wattenberg. But there are thousands of tanks and hundreds of miles of pipeline in the flood zone.

Speaking on behalf of East Boulder County United, Cliff Willmeng said, “Our concern is that all of these sites contain various amounts of hazardous industrial wastes that are now capable of spilling into the waterways and onto the agricultural land. Many of these chemicals are carcinogenic, neurotoxic, and known disruptors of the human endocrine system. As of today there is no testing taking place, industrial, independent or otherwise to determine the extent of the contamination, nor any talk of it. And one can guarantee that this week the COGCC will be issuing more drilling permits even as the hydrocarbons flow into the rivers.”

Responding to activists’ demands that the media cover the disaster in the gas field, the Daily Camera published this story:

Boulder County activists concerned about flooded oil, gas wells
Officials: Drilling sites will be inspected once immediate danger passes

Inundated along with roads, bridges, houses and farms are thousands of oil and gas wells and associated condensate tanks and ponds in northeast Boulder County and southwest Weld County.

Anti-fracking activists say the industry needs to account for what types of chemicals may be contaminating soil and groundwater in the area around these wells …

… Colorado Oil and Gas Association President Tisha Schuller said in an email that the industry prepares and drills for these types of natural disasters and opened 24-hour incident command centers to monitor wells and mitigate potential hazards.

“We are working around the clock to monitor, prevent, and address the effects of flooding,” she said. “In cases where personnel could be freed up, they have been made available to communities for flood rescue and relief efforts” …

… “COGCC will be working with state and local authorities to assess risks and, where necessary, provide environmental response and remediation,” said Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources.

Hartman said many operators have added security to tanks, like chains to make sure they don’t float away, though aerial photographs have shown floating and drifting tanks in some flooded areas.

St. Vrain River – Weld County [Photo courtesy Cliff Willmeng]

St. Vrain River – Weld County [Photo courtesy Cliff Willmeng]

******

Wattenberg well pad underwater [Photo courtesy Cliff Willmeng]

Wattenberg well pad underwater [Photo courtesy Cliff Willmeng]

Well pad under water in Wattenberg [Photo courtesy Cliff Willmeng]

Well pad submerged in Wattenberg [Photo courtesy Cliff Willmeng]

Flooded tanks in Erie, CO near Red Hawk Elementary [Photo courtesy Cliff Willmeng]

Flooded tanks in Erie, CO near Red Hawk Elementary [Photo courtesy Cliff Willmeng]

Links to more photos —

East Boulder County United on Facebook — More photo and videos by Cliff Willmeng

Kathy Tompkins on Facebook — Flooded well sites along South Platte River

Weld Air and Water — Flooding on South Platte and Cache la Poudre

On Saturday, Greeley radio talk show host Scooter McGee posted this 2-minute video: Gas Line Rupture Co. Hwy 34 East of Greeley 
Maybe this is the broken pipeline at the unknown location

This just in, a damage assessment to date but nothing about the gas field. Otherwise it’s good — if not mind-numbing  — A Look At Colorado’s Catastrophic Flood, By The Numbers

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