Crude Oil Spill in South Platte Follows Flood

Oil and gas wells are shut, a spill is reported. What are the environmental impacts from Colorado’s devastating floods?
September 2013

Lost in the aftermath of the destructive floods that swept Colorado this past week is perhaps the most invisible—yet important—consequence: environmental fallout.

Case in point is the crude oil spill in Milliken, a town roughly 15 miles southwest of Greeley. In that community, more than 5,200 gallons of crude oil spilled from two tank batteries into the overflowing South Platte River. The oil discharge comprised an estimated 125 barrels and is “the only known significant oil and gas related release due to the floods,” the Colorado Oil and Gas Association reported on its website.

Anadarko, which the Denver Post identified as “the second-largest operator in the Denver-Julesburg basin” said in a statement that the battery leaks “have associated light-oil releases” and that the incident had been reported to several organizations, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. COGA reported on its site that absorbent booms had been put into the South Platte. The impacted area is in a section of river near the confluence of the St. Vrain River.

“This State of Colorado and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must force Anadarko to clean it up—no matter the cost—and make reparations to the public, including paying fines and enforcing the Clean Water Act, which may include civil and criminal penalties,” Gary Wockner, of Clean Water Action, said in a statement that was reported in the Post. “In addition, the State must initiate news rules for drilling and fracking near rivers, streams, and in floodplains that better protect the public and the environment.”

The flood—which Governor John Hickenlooper has said could be a once-in-50-or-100-year event—caused significant disruption in the state’s oil and gas production. Several storage tanks have been toppled and, the Post says, “oil drums, some empty, some full, could be seen floating in the [South Platte] river as far east as Kersey.” Officials in Weld County reported late last week that one oil and gas pipeline broke and that two others had sagged. Encana Corpoation, another company that drills in Colorado, reported earlier that flooding dislodged tanks that held wastewater and that a “small amount” of oil spilled from one well but was contained.

For its part, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said earlier that roughly 1,900 oil and gas wells in affected parts of the state had been shut. Additionally, 600 industry employees were inspecting or repairing impacted areas.

—Image courtesy of Shutterstock