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Pro-frackers try to stem leak claims
DENVER | Anti-fracking groups drumming up alarm over oil leaks from last week’s epic Colorado floods are running into pushback from those who say the activists are overstating the problem to advance a political agenda.
Figures released Tuesday by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission show that 34,524 gallons of oil and condensate, or about 822 barrels, have leaked into floodwaters and rivers, stemming mainly from 11 notable tank ruptures that occurred during the historic floods.
As oil spills go, that’s pretty small — the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill exceeded 257,000 barrels — but anti-fracking activists have seized on the leaks to demand a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, insisting the leaks represent “widespread contamination” that “place the public and environment in immediate danger.”
Such claims draw attention from real post-flood problems, says Amy Oliver Cooke, director of the Energy Policy Center at the free-market Independence Institute in Denver, who accused the anti-fracking groups of “taking a play from the Rahm Emanuel playbook: ‘You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.’”
“[T]he eco-left is claiming the sky is falling because 35,000 gallons of oil have also spilled into the flood waters,” said Ms. Cooke. “That’s like worrying about a single drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”
The Colorado flooding comes as one of the first real-world tests of the booming fracking industry’s ability to survive a natural disaster, which could influence the national debate over the safety of a technique that has touched off a global energy revolution.
Hit hard by the floods was the oil-rich Denver-Julesberg Basin, which hosts about 20,000 active oil and gas wells. About 1,900 wells have been shut down in the aftermath of the disaster.
An article Friday in Forbes described the extent of the spillage as “far less than a drop in the bucket,” while the Denver Business Journal said 25,000 gallons is “roughly equivalent to the amount of water flowing every two seconds past a South Platte River stream gauge near Fort Lupton.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper says he expects the seepage to dissipate quickly in the fast-moving floodwaters, telling the Denver Post, “It could have been 100 times worse.”
That’s not the impression given by environmentalists in reports circulating in the news and on anti-fracking websites. The headline of an article last week in Rolling Stone magazine was emblematic: “Flooding and Fracking in Colorado: Double Disaster.”
An article posted Friday on the Natural Resources Defense Fund website declared, “Fracking Fluid in the Floods.”
The reports come even though state and industry officials have insisted repeatedly that no fracking operations were underway at the time of the flood. The fracking process lasts about four to seven days in the life of a 30-year well, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
“To date, there has been no reported release of chemicals or fracturing fluid additives at these locations,” said COGA in a Sunday release. “These chemicals are not stored at production facilities.”
That hasn’t stemmed the tide of anti-fracking sentiment. “I could see broken flow lines discharging petrochemicals into the rivers,” said local activist Shane Davis in a statement after a flight over the area sponsored by Ecoflight. “It was horrific seeing thousands of oil and gas well pads underwater, broken pipes, bubbling gasses, and more near homes, agricultural areas, and organic farms.”
A coalition of anti-fracking groups, led by Frack-Free Colorado and East Boulder County United, issued a statement Saturday calling for an immediate moratorium on statewide hydraulic-fracturing permits.
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About the Author
Valerie Richardson covers politics and the West from Denver. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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