Poudre oil spill cleanup update

Cache la Poudre River

Cache la Poudre River

From the Associated Press via 9News.com:

Environmental officials and work crews are dismantling a flood-damaged storage tank so they can remove oil-stained soil from an area where about 7,200 gallons of crude leaked into a northern Colorado river.

Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, says Noble Energy, which operates the tank, has been cleaning up the site on the Poudre River near Windsor since the leak was discovered Friday. The bank next to the storage tank was undercut by the high spring river flows, causing it to drop and break a valve.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

“We consider this a significant spill,” wrote Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission spokesman Todd Hartman in an email Monday. “The vast majority of spills are far smaller. We’ve had larger spills, but those are true anomalies.”

Colorado hasn’t seen a spill this big since September 2013, when a deluge of floodwaters in multiple rivers spilled 48,250 gallons of oil.

The September flooding, along with spills like the one discovered Friday near Windsor, have prompted state regulators and environmental groups to consider increasing the distance between wells and Colorado’s waterways. Today, state law governing the distance between oil wells and water along Colorado’s Front Range does not take into account seasonal flooding, Hartman said.

COGCC has one law that adjusts setbacks for high water marks that applies only to gold medal fisheries or cutthroat trout habitats. The fisheries predominately operate on the Western Slope.

Following the floods, environmental advocates are pushing more than a dozen new oil and gas regulations toward ballots in the November election. One proposal suggests moving setbacks to 2,000 feet from bodies of water. Some experts say that would cripple oil and gas development in places like Weld County, where more than 21,000 wells operate today.

There are about 5,900 oil and gas wells within 500 feet of a Colorado “waterway that is significant enough to be named” and more than 20,000 wells within 500 feet of water of some kind.

The practice of drilling near water originates from “longstanding practical pressures” by mineral rights owners to confine wells to their least productive sections of land, according to a special report on oil and gas development commissioned after the September 2013 floods. It’s also easier to drill for oil in more accessible areas, particularly along waterways.

In the post-flood report, the COGCC recommended that tank batteries “be located as far from waterways as possible,” and that all wells near an ordinary high water mark should have remote shut-in equipment, allowing them to be shut down automatically when waters are high. The report also suggested that regulations should “apply within a designated distance from the ordinary high water mark of all waterways in Colorado.”

Since Friday, Noble Energy crews have been cleaning up after the Windsor-area spill. As of Monday, they have yet to identify any wildlife impacted by the spill, and drinking water has not been polluted, said Hartman. On Friday, Noble Energy, owners of the well, began a biological study of the spill’s impacts. Soil samples were also taken, but the results of those are pending.

The river flooded two tanks off Weld County Road 23, an area surrounded by a cattle ranch and farm land. As crews continued work Monday, bikers sped by along the Poudre River Trail, which winds just on the opposite side of the river from the spill.

The well feeding the tanks was shut May 24 due to spring runoff flooding. Although Noble discovered the spill June 20, the company can’t be sure exactly when the damage was done to the tank.

Each tank can hold 300 barrels of crude oil, with about 42 gallons per barrel. Flood waters had undercut the bank below one battery, releasing the contents of 178 barrels.

Noble has since drained the second tank, which was undamaged, said Hartman. Most of the spill was washed away in the floodwaters, which left a few stagnant polluted pools behind. Clean-up crews used absorbent pads to remove oil from vegetation and water pools. On Monday, crews began to excavate a shallow layer of soil.

More oil and gas coverage here.

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