WASHINGTON — Stories of massive oil spills and fracking fluid saturating the raging floodwaters that devastated Colorado are now seeping into national media accounts of the disaster and painting pictures of environmental destruction.
The problem is, it’s not true, said Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
There were no hydraulic fracturing operations functioning when the floods hit the region, no fracking equipment at the well sites, no fracking chemicals on any site, Flanders said.
There were no wellbore incidents, 1,900 oil and gas wells were shut-in, or capped in real time, and the integrity of tanks remained intact. The 12 notable oil spills that did occur could fill five percent of an Olympic size swimming pool and were the result of cracks in flowlines that connected to equipment, Flanders said.
“So, the fact people were saying we were having this fracking disaster is just completely and utterly false,” Flanders said.
Rep. Jared Polis added his voice Friday to the anti-fracking narrative by calling for a congressional hearing on the oil leaks from Colorado’s historic flooding.
“Not only have my constituents been dealing with damage to their homes, schools, and roads, they are increasingly concerned about the toxic spills that have occurred from the flooding of nearly 1,900 fracking wells in Colorado,” the Colorado Democrat wrote in a letter to House Resources Committee chairman Doc Hastings. “Congress must deal with this issue to ensure that natural disasters do not also become public health disasters.”
Polis, who represents the Boulder area, where opposition to hydraulic fracturing is high, added that, “As Congress continues to consider policies to expand domestic oil and gas production, we would benefit from learning more about how disasters like this can impact local communities, states, and federal regulators.”
Reporters from Salon magazine and television news crews were taken on aerial tours by special interest groups who oppose fracking, and treated to narratives that were often incorrect.
CNN suggested chemicals from fracking fluid had inundated communities, and that floating tanks signaled environmental mishaps.
“If you see a tank floating on water, that means your tank is intact,” Flanders said.
Salon reported that wells had flooded and that fracking fluids had spilled into the South Platte near Erie.
Rolling Stone magazine also painted a dramatic picture of the damage describing “submerged wellpads and pipelines, waste tanks torn from their moorings and floating downstream.”
The article did add that the impact of the flooding on oil and gas operations was unknown and that no significant spills had been discovered.
A front page Denver Post story with the headline “Oil spilling into mix” featured a dramatic photo of an “oil spill,” only the scene it depicted was not actually an oil spill. Flanders asked for a correction, which took the paper seven days to issue after it was published on Sept. 20, and stated that the substance was standing water left behind after the floodwaters receded.
The Colorado Observer reported Monday that anti-fracking activists seized on the epic flooding to pursue their agenda for a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and cited critics that accused the environmentalists of exaggerating the damage.
According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the oil leaks occurred with a total spill volume of 34,500 gallons.
“At the time of the floods, there were no hydraulic fracturing operations going on in the areas, no hydraulic fracturing equipment on any of these well sites, so there were no hydraulic fracturing chemicals on any of these sites,” Flanders said.
“So any of these tanks people saw either had water, or had oil, or were empty, but there were no fracking fluids whatsoever,” Flanders said.
The only fluids contained at the fracking operations were either fresh water or produced water – a briny, salty liquid that occurs naturally on drilling sites.
“We’ve planned for natural disasters,” Flanders said. “Floods, tornadoes, we have procedures in place.”
“What this flooding has been able to show, if people have any concerns about the safety of oil and gas facilities during this kind of incident, is the industry was extraordinarily prepared, we were able to respond in real time,” Flanders said.
However, the flood waters did contain pollution from millions of gallons of sewage from septic systems, damaged sewer lines, and flooded waste treatment plants, and E. coli was discovered in the city of Lyon’s drinking water.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This report was revised to include Rep. Polis’ statement