An Anadarko Petroleum oil tank damaged by flood waters has released “an estimated 125 barrels or 5,250 gallons into the South Platte River,” according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The spill is spreading just outside the town of Milliken, east of Highway 25 about midway between Longmont and Loveland in heavily drilled Weld County.
Anadarko reported the leak to state regulators this afternoon, according to a release sent out Wednesday evening by Todd Hartman with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. The release did not report how long the tank has been leaking oil into the river.
Hartmann didn’t immediately return messages.
The South Platte River flows north through Milliken toward Greeley, joining the Poudre and Platte rivers that run over the northeast corner of the state into Nebraska. It’s unclear which residents and businesses will be affected by the spill.
“Anadarko is responding and has absorbent booms in the water,” states the Hartman release. “The COGCC responded this afternoon and will, along with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, continue to monitor the cleanup work.”
News of the spill comes as media and citizen reports gain traction in the state and around the country on the potential toxic effects of the damaged drilling equipment photographed and videotaped bobbing along roadsides and waterways in a flood zone that now stretches over an area close to 5,000 miles, from the Rocky Mountain foothills across the high plains.
Weld County, inundated in the wake of historic rain storms last week, is the site of boom-time natural gas drilling, where tens of thousands of wells dot the rural and urban landscape and residents increasingly fear regulators and officials have little will to seriously monitor or slow activity.
Indeed, in a press conference Monday, the state’s 18-member regulator staff, stretched thin in the crisis, leaned on oil and gas industry representatives to report on possible threats to public safety.
Colorado Oil and Gas Association trade group president Tisha Schuller played down reports of damaged equipment. Asked about the many photographs posted online by citizens weathering the deluge — many of them fleeing sunken homes as they snapped shots of toppled fracking tanks floating in neighborhoods and front yards — Schuller suggested the photographs might be faked or otherwise unreliable.
“We have seen the social media frenzy regarding pictures of oil and gas facilities ‘under water,'” she said. “While the pictures seem extraordinary, there is no data or specifics provided.”
At least one pipeline in the area has broken, according to reports. Others are sagging. In addition to oil, so-called produced water is leaking from the damaged tanks. Produced water is fluid that comes back to the surface as a byproduct of blasting water and chemicals into the earth to free trapped gas. Hydraulic fracturing or fracking shoots millions of gallons of water into each well. There are 20,000 active wells in Weld County. Fracking water is mixed with toxic chemicals like Benzyne before being shot into the ground and, when it comes back to the surface, it contains hard minerals and radiation. So-called produced water is unusable and is stored in tanks and in pits and wells dug deep into the ground.
Coloradans who have seen houses and highways crumpled and overturned in the floods fear fracking infrastructure has suffered the same fate and is now contaminating vast reaches of the land where they live.