The latest reports from Colorado on the flooding damage are indicative that we have gone from the "worst flood in a century" stage to the "environmental catastrophe" stage. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported yesterday that state regulators are working with gas and oil industry workers to assess exactly how many of Weld County wells are leaking toxic sludge. Locals are pessimistic because there are 20,554 active oil and gas wells in Weld County, representing over a third of all wells in Colorado.
ThinkProgress is reporting that the floods have completely overwhelmed the oil and gas infrastructure. Apparently, fracking fluids and gasoline can join the list of toxic chemicals released by the floods, right next to pesticides and human wastewater.
Mark Salley, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said that "Many contaminants, such as raw sewage, as well as potential releases of chemicals from homes, businesses and industry, may be contained in the floodwaters... People are encouraged to stay out of the water as much as possible, and wash frequently with warm water and soap if they do come in contact with contaminated water."
Although industry workers are working on unspecified remedies, that didn't stop environmental watchdog groups that were locally monitoring fracking practices from saturating the social media world with images featuring flooded wells, busted chemical holding tanks and wastewater escaping into the surrounding area.
Cliff Willmeng, the spokesman for East Boulder County United, a local environmental group, said on Monday that "hundreds, if not thousands of wells [are] underwater right now and we have no idea what those wells are leaking... it's very clear they are leaking into the floodwaters though."
The executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Mike King, told the Denver Post that the scale is unprecedented... we will have to deal with environmental contamination from whatever source." King added that the possible contaminants would be a stew of oil field pollution, agricultural pesticide, sewage and gasoline. No mention from him of fracking fluids, but they're certain to be included in the floodwater stew.
Water and debris from the floods has already damaged the above-ground fracking instruments that hold the chemical fluids used in natural gas drilling, called condensate tanks. Willmeng, speaking about the damage, said "Because the condensate tanks are either halfway empty or halfway full, they’re the pieces of infrastructure that are being torn off their anchors... So you’re seeing these things that are strewn about the flood areas and some are filled up, some are knocked over, and some are completely washed away."
If you want to see some of the photos, East Boulder County United's Facebook page has some good ones.[Image via the East Boulder County United Facebook page]