In flood-struck Colorado, concerns about fracking spills

Wed Sep 18, 2013 5:00pm EDT
 
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By Edward McAllister and Selam Gebrekidan

NEW YORK, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Contaminated water spilling from flooded oil and gas drilling sites in Colorado is refocusing attention on the environmental risks surrounding America's fracking boom.

Floods that have devastated north-central Colorado, killing eight people and displacing thousands, have also dislodged storage tanks that hold drilling wastewater left over from the production process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

While the impact of leaks is yet to be assessed, environmental groups, which oppose fracking, are expressing concerns about the risk of adding drilling fluids to other toxins potentially loosed by the floods.

Fertilizer and pesticides running from vast tracts of farmland may pose a bigger threat. But fracking waste is one of the newest problems in a state where energy production is on the rise, and spills could pose the latest environmental challenge to the multibillion-dollar oil and gas industry.

"We don't know the disposition of the chemicals and waste at this point, but there's a possibility that the flooding allowed their release, and that is a major concern," said Tony Ingraffea, professor of engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

"We could have a long term, hazardous waste cleanup problem."

A helicopter flight on Tuesday over Weld County in Colorado, one of the worst affected areas and home to about 20,000 active oil and gas wells, afforded views of listing and toppled storage tanks at oil and gas wells. Some sites were submerged under brown floodwater; cattle grazed on higher ground nearby.

Encana Corp, a major driller in the state, said flooding had dislodged some storage tanks holding wastewater at oil and gas wells, and a "small amount" of oil had spilled from one well. The spill was contained at the site, a spokesman said.   Continued...