Colorado’s flooding shut down hundreds of natural gas and oil wells in the state’s main petroleum-producing region, triggering 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 Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. — 323 barrels (13,500 gallons) along the St. Vrain River near Platteville, and 125 barrels (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, Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Matthew Allen 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.
“We’re on that location and recovering what we can,” company spokesman John Christiansen said Thursday, adding the company was still trying to reach other well sites rendered inaccessible by the flooding.
More reports of problems in northern Colorado’s oil patch could emerge once flood waters recede and inspectors can access more sites, Allen said.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission also found some tanks that shifted or moved off pads, but said most tanks and well pads were intact.
The EPA flew its first reconnaissance mission over the some of the most heavily damaged areas inside the flood zone Wednesday, once aircraft no longer were needed for search and rescue work. More flights were planned Thursday.
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. As drilling has moved closer to homes and schools, many residents there have been pushing for more government oversight of drillers.
The largest producer in the basin, Houston-based Noble Energy, said two wells that were releasing natural gas have been shut down and a third would be shut down once it was safe to access the well. The company estimates that it has shut down between 5 percent and 10 percent of its wells because of flooding and has been monitoring them from the air and ground.
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