Floodwaters Show No Sign of Oil, Gas Pollutants

October 9, 2013
Last month’s devastating Front Range floods didn’t unleash the environmental disaster predicted by anti-fracking activists

Last month’s devastating Front Range floods didn’t unleash the environmental disaster predicted by anti-fracking activists

DENVER—Last month’s devastating Front Range floods did enormous damage, but they didn’t unleash the environmental disaster predicted by anti-fracking activists.

Results of water samples taken Sept. 26 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found “no evidence of pollutants from oil and gas spills in rivers and streams affected by flooding,” according to a statement released Tuesday.

“Although much attention was focused on spills from oil and gas operations, it is reassuring the sampling shows no evidence of oil and gas pollutants,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, the department’s executive director and chief medical officer.

“There were elevated E. coli levels, as we expected, in some locations,” Wolk added.

The report comes as environmentalists continue to fuel unrest over oil and gas seepage from storage tanks ruptured during the flooding, prompting dozens of feverish reports on what one anti-fracking website called “the toxic toll of flooded fracking facilities.”

Critics like the Independence Institute’s Amy Oliver Cooke have accused anti-fracking groups of hyping the disaster for political gain.

“What’s a fracko to do?” said Oliver in a Tuesday post on Twitter. “E. coli found in CO flood zones, but no oil, gas contamination!”

Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado Democrat, called last week for a congressional investigation into the spills, while anti-fracking groups have posted online petitions demanding a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the wake of the floods.

Environmental groups are also using the flood spills to drum up support for proposed hydraulic-fracturing moratoriums on the November ballot in four communities: Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette.

Several anti-fracking committees, led by Frack-Free Colorado, hosted an event Saturday in Boulder called, “Fracking Flooding and Climate Change.”

“We saw that fracking infrastructure does not stand up to flooding, which we may see more of, as the planet warms,” said a post for the event.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission reported Tuesday that crews are tracking 13 notable releases of oil totaling 43,134 gallons, an amount of seepage expected to be easily dissipated by rushing rivers and streams.

“The several small spills we’ve had have been very small relative to the huge flow of water coming through,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper last month.

The department collected 29 samples from eight rivers affected by the flooding. While the study found no sign of oil and gas pollutants, high levels of E.coli bacteria were found in the Boulder Creek and Big Thompson River watershed, caused by millions of gallons of raw sewage that entered rivers during the flooding.

Environmental groups have said little about the potential health effects from sewage.

“E. coli indicates human and animal bacteria from untreated sewage that can make people sick,” said the department in its statement. “However, outbreaks of communicable diseases or illnesses after floods seldom are seen and have not been reported with the recent flooding in Colorado.”

Five public drinking water systems remain on boil or bottled water advisories: Jamestown, Lyons, Mountain Meadow Water Supply, Lower Narrows Campground and Sylvan Dale Ranch.

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