Colorado Monitoring 10 Oil Spills After Flooding

Only two of the oil leaks that have been spotted are substantial, together they account for about 19,000 gallons of crude released into the environment

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Authorities in Colorado are just beginning to assess the damage from recent record-busting floods along the Front Range, but among the waters already discovered are two oil spills that together amounting to roughly 450 barrels of the stuff–roughly 19,000 gallons.

The size of the two significant spills remains comparatively small–several thousand barrels were involved in the Arkansas pipeline spill earlier this year, for instance–and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is still monitoring the situation, with six teams of inspectors on the ground and one staffer inspecting  from the air as of Thursday. Eight additional oil releases that have been found are minor, meaning the “spill” might be “described as sheens coming off a piece of equipment rather than a measurable volume of petroleum product,” according to a statement from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Both major spills were immediately reported to the authorities, the DNR statement said.

“In the context of this historic event, these spills are not an unexpected part of many other sources of contamination associated with the flood,” said the Colorado DNR in a statement. “Those include very large volumes (millions of gallons) of raw, municipal sewage and other hazards associated with households, agriculture, business and industry.”

As with all aspects of the response to the flooding in Colorado the situation is developing. A spokesperson for the Colorado DNR said it is too early to tell how long the inspection phase—let alone cleanup—will last.

What the long-lasting impact of flooding in Colorado will be is difficult to pin down. The size of the area and industry affected are massive; around 1,900 oil and gas wells have been shut off due to the flooding, according to the Denver Post. In addition to the environmental fallout from sewage and chemical runoff, and public health problems posed by standing water, there will be political ramifications. Anti-fracking forces have already seized on the disaster to call for oil companies to disclose the chemicals in fracking fluid now leaking into the watershed.

City planners, too, may be asked to re-think development strategies in the area. Though the Colorado flooding was indeed epic, as Cally Carswell has noted in High Country News, “Crack open the history books and you’ll find that the Front Range has always been flood prone. According to the Boulder Area Sustainability Information Network (BASIN), when it comes to flooding, ‘the Boulder Creek drainage is considered among the most hazardous in the entire western United States.’”

The floodwaters may be receding but the full impact of this disaster is just beginning to be felt.