By Sherriel Weithers
Sojourner Truth Intern
Last week over a 48-72 hour period historic rainfall caused flooding over a large portion of Central and Eastern Colorado bringing the September, total to more than 17 inches of rain thus far, and has caused a significant amount of damage. Between six to eight people have been reported dead, several hundred remain unaccounted for, and thousands have been displaced.
Along with the rise in water levels came elevated concern over the tens of thousands of frack wells. In one of the hardest hit areas, Weld County, there are over 20,000 frack wells alone.
As of Thursday, September 19th the environmental damage from the Colorado floods includes 13,500 gallons of oil spilled into the South Platte River from a flow-line pipe used to carry condensate between equipment and the storage tanks was compromised by silt and debris that broke the line between tanks. Two other pipe lines still appear to be at risk, official said.
Meanwhile, scientists are linking the deluge to climate change, pointing out that the continued extraction of oil, coal, and gas will result in more and more bouts of extreme weather. The floods, which came during what is traditionally one of the driest months of the year, were worsened by drought and wildfires, both of which have been linked to climate change and have left the ground dry and hard.
As floodwaters recede in Colorado, photos and reports are coming in of the massive damage to oil and gas infrastructure across the region, threatening a major public health disaster as its toxic contents mix with the floodwaters. Community members report that tanks storing carcinogenic fracking chemicals have been overwhelmed and are toppling over, while pipelines transporting fossil fuels are snapping under pressure.
Currently Colorado has only 20 inspectors for the over 50,000 high-volume fracking wells. Many say that the industry has been allowed to police itself, which may be responsible for the hundreds of oil and gas industry spills reported each year in the state.
The fracking fluid used in Encana's Weld County wells contains a long list of chemicals, including hydrochloric acid and benzyl chloride, according to Frac Focus, a website where energy firms can disclose substances they are using to frack.
Hydraulic fracturing is a practice where engineers send huge volumes of water, chemicals and sand under immense pressure through wellheads to deposits deep underground to break up the shale rock below and then extract the oil or gas.
That mixture, which often takes on additional, naturally occurring contaminates such as lead or radioactive elements, is then pumped back to the surface. Sometimes it’s stored on site in large ponds or in tanks until it can be disposed of.
It’s estimated that 60% of all new oil and gas wells worldwide are being hydraulically fractured.
As of 2012, 2.5 million hydraulic fracturing jobs have been performed on oil and gas wells worldwide, more than one million of them in the United States. Uranium Energy Corporation is planning to use hydraulic fracturing to mine uranium. Fracking for uranium involves injecting oxygenated water (to increase solubility) to dissolve the uranium, then pumping the solution back up to the surface.
Fracking has generated controversy within the United States, particularly in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Residents there have complained the practice of fracking has contaminated their drinking water and air. Some residents demonstrate that they can set their tap water on fire, because of chemicals and natural gas that has seeped into their water supply after fracking takes place in the area around them.