Oil and Water Mix in Colorado

Cliff Willmeng Oct 4, 2013

The crisis for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) caused by recent devastating flooding is now–thanks to community members and their cameras–set firmly on the world stage.

In late September, international media attention was drawn to the immensity of the Weld County disaster, and those terrifying images of floodwaters colliding with oil and gas infrastructure are now the property of history, never to be taken back.

The industry will now engage in damage control to the best of its abilities–which will mean attempting to reassure the public and investors that it is in command, and every effort is being made to assess, contain and mitigate the catastrophic damage we all witnessed unfold. COGA spokeswoman Tisha Schulller is making daily statements to this effect as she is paid to do, and Colorado's Gov. John Hickenlooper spent at least part of his day on September 26 tweeting about the cantaloupe he was eating, confident that "the several small spills that we've had have been very small, relative to the huge flow of water."

Anadarko, a multinational petroleum corporation with annual revenue of over $14 billion and owner of some of the first major official spills into the South Platte River, volunteered $300,000 toward the flood relief. In the meantime, chemicals leak unstopped into the environment of Weld County and beyond, and before even a minimal environmental assessment was made, Encana announced that 150 flooded wells that had been shut down were now up and flowing again.

As of Sunday, September 22, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) officially recognized at least 10 spills leaking tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil and other hydrocarbons, and dozens of condensate tanks that were knocked off their ground. There is still no word on the status of underground pipes and infrastructure.

We can't see that workers on the ground are being given full personal protection gear, as anyone in a hazmat suit would indicate there is something poisonous involved in gas and oil production. And we don't know if the oil and gas industry will take some of its massive profits to pay field workers while they are off the clock.

We can make an educated guess, however, that industry CEOs–many of whom receive yearly compensation in the tens of millions of dollars–are sitting dry and comfortable. So at least that is not a concern.

The industry whose operations regularly pollute our beautiful state will now expect the people of Weld County and Colorado to believe that it is a credible source of information and environmental action. And while we are weighing that idea, five Colorado communities that are attempting to assert some degree of democratic control over oil and gas operations on the ballot this November will continue to be harassed by industrial public relations groups and corporate law firms.

COGA and the COGCC have refused to drop their lawsuit against the people of Longmont for voting to ban fracking in 2012, and the gag order preventing medical professionals and first responders to disclose the composition of fracking fluids in the event of human contamination is still on the books. These priorities have withstood the floods.

All of this is the direct result of the takeover of our lands by the oil and gas industry, and a government that acts as the industry's political arm. But as the hydrocarbons drip into the soil, the Environmental Protection Agency shrugs its collective shoulders and Colorado's floodwaters carry into Nebraska and beyond, our communities will continue to fill in where government, gas, and oil leave human health and safety behind.

The tragedy we are all part of asks us to strengthen our resolve on every level. And when it comes to the discussion of mineral rights versus public safety and democratic control of our world, this will be one area that does not escape the industry, the people of Colorado or John Hickenlooper.

Colorado will be changed by these enormous events to be sure, and it will be the incredible efforts of our people that will place us all on higher ground.

First published at

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