Flood’s oil, gas impacts assessed as setbacks call is renewed

The industry and regulators are continuing to evaluate the extent of damage to oil and gas facilities on Colorado’s flooded Front Range as some are renewing calls for the state to impose drilling-related setback rules to protect waterways.

Tisha Schuller, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission today that all wells known to have been affected by flooding have been shut in, and she knows of two empty and floating tanks.

But she added, “We know of tanks that have been unmoored and breakage of the lines that run to them.”

Numerous photos of flood-affected oil and gas facilities have been posted on social media. COGCC director Matt Lepore said his agency intends to act as a clearinghouse about flooded facilities and what companies are doing about them, and to reach out to companies with sites in flooded areas to learn more about their status.

Mike King, executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources, told the COGCC that the state’s focus for now continues to be finding stranded people. But he said his department and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment “in short order” will be dealing with any environmental contamination and remediation of facilities causing it.

The CDPHE today warned people to avoid contact with floodwater that could be contaminated by chemicals from homes and from oil and gas and other industries.

The COGCC undertook a major rules overhaul in 2008. But with the exception of setbacks to protect municipal water supplies, it put off the controversial issue of waterway setbacks, intending to address the matter in 2009.

“Here it is four years later and it still hasn’t been done. That’s why we’re allowing more and more oil and gas facilities to be right next to rivers and streams,” said Matt Sura, an attorney working on oil and gas issues.

Tresi Houpt, an oil and gas commissioner during the 2008 rulemaking and a former Garfield County commissioner, said even good setback rules wouldn’t have provided protection from the extreme floods that hit the Front Range.

“But I think that it is really important that we learn from this and it is another good reason to make sure that we do have appropriate setbacks in place along our waterways,” she said.

She noted non-flooding oil and gas contamination problems that have beset Divide and Parachute creeks in Garfield County, not to mention how close to the Colorado River drilling has occurred.

“A much smaller weather event could put those waterways at risk if flooding occurred,” she said.

 



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