GREELEY—The “fracking flood disaster” narrative pushed by activists has been largely debunked, but Dan Kelly says there’s another energy-related story from last month’s epic Colorado flooding that hasn’t been told.
Noble Energy’s vice-president for Colorado basin operations, Kelly said he never dreamed he and his employees would have to confront a major flood disaster, but when the time came, “we were prepared, and that came through in some many ways.”
“This is something real that I watched every day,” said Kelly. “I watched people mobilizing . . . folks stepping up and taking leadership roles during this whole event. It just makes so much sense to me why we spent so much time preparing, why we spent so much time getting ready for something that could happen, even though I never thought it would be a flood.”
His comments came at a thank-you lunch Tuesday hosted by Noble Energy for hundreds of employees, first responders, disaster-relief groups, government officials and others who pulled together to mitigate the damage from the catastrophic floods.
Officials from the American Red Cross, Weld Food Bank and local government took to the stage at the Island Grove Events Center to applaud Noble Energy and its employees for coming to the rescue during the disaster with volunteers, donations and elbow grease.
“There’s talkers and there’s doers, and Noble, you guys are the doers,” said Cheri Witt-Brown, volunteer manager of the Weld Food Bank.
Such support comes at a crucial time for energy companies like Noble still reeling from the flooding disaster while facing proposed fracking moratoriums on four local ballots in November.
The largest oil-well operator in the Denver Julesburg Basin, Noble Energy has estimated its flood damage and production losses at between $7 and $17 million.
Even so, the company has donated $500,000 to the American Red Cross Colorado Relief Fund and pledged to match donations of up to $1,000 per employee. Its workers have donated, packed and delivered food to schools and shelters, while the company has provided portable toilets to Evans.
“Your company has a commitment to being a good neighbor,” said Greeley Mayor Tom Norton.
Officials at the Houston-based firm, which employs about 1,000 people in Colorado, said the company’s push toward automation, along with hundreds of hours invested in training personnel for emergencies, helped Noble limit the damage from the floods that nobody saw coming.
Noble CEO Chuck Davidson told the crowd that, “You did it. You did something special.”
“Not only did you carry out your jobs and your roles in responding to the horrible catastrophe, but you stopped to think about how you could help others, how you could help them better people’s lives, to get through this,” said Davidson.
Earlier Tuesday, Davidson said at the Natural Gas Symposium sponsored by Colorado State University that the company was able to shut down nearly all of its affected wells remotely as a result of its upgraded systems. The company had also erected barriers around its well heads, which prevented flood debris from crashing into active wells.
“These were horrific floods, there was no question about it,” said Davidson. “At the same time there were a lot of good things that happened that perhaps didn’t really come out.”
The company reported spills of about 200 barrels from tankers that were swept up in the floodwaters, but no leaks from producing wells. About 800 of Noble’s 8,000 wells were shut in at the height of the flooding, and almost all are now operational.
“Every gallon that we spill we treat it very seriously, but given the horrific nature of this flooding, I think the facilities held up relatively well,” said Davidson.
Initial speculation by anti-fracking groups about a flood-spawned oil-and-gas disaster has so far proved groundless. State officials reported last week that no oil-and-gas contamination was found in 29 water samples taken at eight affected rivers and streams.
Still, Davidson said that Noble can improve its disaster response. The company is looking at ways to improve tank security, such as by centralizing its facilities and tank batteries, he said.
“So we will learn,” Davidson said. “But given the scale of it and given all the other impacts, the oil-and-gas industry did a reasonably good job of not only having the right facilities there to start with but in responding to it to minimize the impacts that clearly happened as a result of the floods.”
Kelly acknowledged that, “We saw some of the folks that were maybe anti-oil and gas, and they took potshots at some of the things that they were seeing—we did understand that any unintended release is not a good thing.”
“We own that. We’re going to do better next time,” said Kelly. “But in the meantime, we decided that it was time to tell our story.”