[dropcap]A[/dropcap]long with buckled highways, washed-away towns and floating SUVs, lasting images of the floods that ravaged northern Colorado last year include the wrenched remains of fracking well pads. Listing oil tanks bobbed before farmhouses and on the streets of city neighborhoods. For weeks, the threat posed by oil and gas spills became a central topic of mainstream media news.
But as the conservationist Center for Western Priorities points out, spills are a constant problem in Colorado, where hydraulic fracturing technology has spurred a boom in drilling that the state’s few inspectors struggle to monitor.
But they do monitor and they depend on drillers to report spills as well, which they do. The Center has posted online a “Colorado Toxic Release Tracker” using available data compiled by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. The tracker paints an ugly picture. According to the data, there were 495 oil industry-related chemical spills in Colorado last year and nearly a quarter of the spills impacted ground or surface water, the organization wrote in a release Wednesday. Sixty-three spills spread within 1,500 feet of pigs, sheep and cows. Two hundred twenty-five spread within the same distance of buildings.
“The numbers show oil and gas operations were responsible for more than one spill each day last year,” Director Greg Zimmerman was quoted to say. “The spill tracker brings transparency and accountability to Colorado’s oil and gas spill problem.”
December seems like a typical month in Colorado: there were 31 days and 36 spills.
The group says it will update its tracker each month.
The tracker is sure to feature in the ongoing battle over Front Range drilling. Five cities between Denver and the Wyoming border voted to suspend or ban fracking within city limits over the last few years. Residents turned to the ballot box when they felt concerns about risks posed to health and safety and over dropping property values were falling on deaf ears. As drilling pads have expanded in neighborhoods and backyards and tractor trailer traffic streams over local streets, city councils and the state legislatures appeared captured by the powerful oil-industry lobby. The industry’s association has sued the cities to lift the bans. The state has joined one of the suits so far and seems likely to back the drillers in the other suits as well.