DENVER—Anti-fracking activists seizing on oil spills from last week’s epic flooding to push for a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing are being accused of exaggerating the problem for political gain.
Figures released Sunday by industry officials show that about 25,000 gallons of oil, or nearly 600 barrels, have been leaked into floodwaters and rivers as a result of ruptures to tanks that occurred during last week’s historic floods.
That’s not exactly the Exxon Valdez—a report in the Denver Post called the spills “small by oil and gas industry standards”—but anti-fracking groups insist the damage constitutes “widespread contamination” stemming from “oil and gas failures” that “place the public and environment in immediate danger.”
“I could see broken flow lines discharging petrochemicals into the rivers,” said local activist Shane Davis in a statement after a flight over the area sponsored by Ecoflight. “It was horrific seeing thousands of oil and gas well pads underwater, broken pipes, bubbling gasses, and more near homes, agricultural areas, and organic farms.”
Critics counter that environmental groups are deliberately whipping up a fracking frenzy in order to advance their anti-industry agenda.
“They’re acting like ambulance-chasing lawyers,” said Dan Kish, senior vice-president for policy at the free-market Institute for Energy Research in Washington, D.C. “They’re taking away from the real issues to grind a political ax at a time when people have real problems.”
A coalition of anti-fracking groups issued a statement Saturday calling for, among other things, an immediate moratorium on statewide hydraulic-fracturing permits, even though industry officials have said repeatedly there were no hydraulic-fracturing operations underway during the flooding, which means no fracking chemicals were released at well sites.
“To date, there has been no reported release of chemicals or fracturing fluid additives at these locations,” said the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in its Sunday release. “These chemicals are not stored at production facilities.”
Meanwhile the amount of oil and natural gas leaked is “roughly equivalent to the amount of water flowing every two seconds past a South Platte River stream gauge near Fort Lupton,” according to the Denver Business Journal.
“Into these muddy floodwaters, 20,000 gallons of oil is far less than a drop in the bucket,” said a Friday report in Forbes magazine headlined, “Have Colorado’s Floods Unleashed Oil and Gas Disaster? Um, No.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper said at a Thursday press conference that he expects the spilled oil to dissipate quickly in the South Platte River.
“When you look at the amount of water flowing through that river, it will process these pollutants very, very rapidly,” Hickenlooper said.
That hasn’t stopped anti-fracking groups from fueling national reports like Thursday’s article in Rolling Stone magazine called, “Flooding and Fracking in Colorado: Double Disaster.”
The anti-fracking coalition has also called for an EPA investigation into the compromised well sites, a “concrete plan to move the state toward renewable energy sources, and a demand that the state allow communities to approve no-fracking rules without the threat of lawsuits.
“We are urging the EPA to step in and conduct an investigation to prevent further contamination,” said Frack Free Colorado’s Suzanne Speigel. “This is a demonstration of our state’s failure to protect us from the dangers of industrial fracking.”
Critics note that the anti-fracking groups have said nothing about contamination from water-treatment plants breached during the flooding, which has poured millions of gallons of raw municipal sewage in the floodwaters.
“Right now we should be worried about the sewage system—it’s a huge danger. We know what kind of public-health problems occur with that,” said Kish. “Your governor drank fracking fluid. Would he drink a glass of sewage?”
Panelists on Friday’s episode of “Colorado Inside Out” on Colorado Public Television said they didn’t expect the spills to trigger a state crackdown.
“Yeah, there are some problems here, but this is not the oil-and-gas reckoning that’s going to cause long-term damage to Colorado,” said Ed Sealover of the Denver Business Journal. “You’re seeing that oil companies are responding more quickly than they normally do in reporting spills–they’re some of the first ones jumping up to volunteer, giving money. This is an industry that I think knows how much it’s under the microscope and is doing everything it can to quickly repair this.”