In the past month, it seems that environmental cataclysms are moving closer to home. The recent catastrophic floods in northern Colorado have done quite a bit of damage. Ten people died in the flooding, and about 18,000 houses were impacted by the floods. The residents are still attempting to clear up the damage from the floods, and it will continue to be a lot of work. However, besides these apparent damages, oil and gas wells were also affected. Weld County is the center of oil and gas drilling in Colorado, and it was unfortunately heavily affected by the flooding. The county contains about 20,000 oil and gas wells, many of which sit along the southern floodplains of the Platte River. The wells are supposed to be very sturdy, but the intense flooding swept debris down the river, breaking pipes and spilling about 37,000 gallons of oil (as currently estimated). The Colorado Oil and Gas Association argues that compared to all of the other damage, this amount of oil spilled should not be of concern.
Environmentalists take a different stance on this matter. They worry that water sources are now contaminated from this spillage, small as it may seem. Because most of the damaged oil and gas wells are on the floodplains of the river, the oil wouldn’t have to travel very far to seep into the water sources. In addition, any spilled oil could easily leak into groundwater no matter where it was. Environmentalists are taking this chance to point out the risks of riverside oil wells. They wanted all drilling to be stopped to take a look at damage, but currently only the 1,900 damaged wells have been shut down, while the rest continue to run to fuel our addiction to fossil fuels.
This fall, there are several towns in Colorado that are going to be voting on banning fracking, following suit of Longmont’s decision to ban it last year. It will be interesting to see whether this oil spill will have any effect on these ballot decisions. Unfortunately, I think it is these disastrous events that make people take action against climate change. When the dangers are close to home people tend to take more of an interest in doing something to make their homes safer. In this case, the potential contamination of water sources may make Colorado residents reconsider our system of continuously taking a nonrenewable resource out of our earth.
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Here are some crazy pictures of the flooding: http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2013/09/historic-flooding-across-colorado/100591/
By Jessica Smyke, Zero Waste Team member