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Colorado Floods Raise Oil/Gas Concerns

As state and industry energy officials continue to focus on restoration efforts, several state legislators have used last month's floods in Colorado to revive attacks on the oil and gas industry, threatening new legislation and regulations.

State legislator Diane Mitsch Bush, a representative in the lower house from two counties along the Western Slope, has told local news media she plans to go after the issue of water contamination and greater setbacks for natural gas and oil wells from waterways. New 500-foot setbacks established earlier this year by the Colorado Oil/Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) have been effective since Aug. 1.

Storm damage caused some oil to flow from damaged tank containers, joining the flood waters along with the widespread refuse and municipal sewage overflows that occurred as cascading water from the unprecedented storm washed out roads and bridges in the hard-hit area. Industry crews have been at work since the late September storm subsided to repair facilities in areas that were accessible.

As of the middle of last week, COGCC, which is overseeing the inspection, identification and mitigation of the oil/gas wells post-flooding, reported that it was tracking 15 notable releases, or spills, bringing the total of oil releases to 1,027 bbl (see Daily GPIOct. 7). That is "approximately the volume of 1/19th of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.," according to Doug Flanders, spokesman for the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA).

Mitsch Bush and other elected officials are raising concerns about the potential health impacts of the spills, which mostly have impacted either the South Platte or St. Vrain Rivers in northeastern Colorado.

"We are continuing to assess the impacts of the flood on oil/gas operations," a COGCC spokesperson told NGI on Monday, adding that the state agency is also collecting information and attempting to figure out what "worked and what might be done differently. We need a strong understanding of the facts so we can have an informed discussion and determine how best to move forward."

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) is seeking a congressional hearing on the impact from flood-related oil/gas spills.

A spokesperson for Gov. John Hickenlooper said the governor thinks it is too early to determine whether oil/gas issues would be among the topics taken up at a possible special state legislative session on flooding.

"We expect there to be a larger conversation about preparedness involving all industries," Flanders said. "We are proud of our preparedness and response and look forward to continual improvement. Context is critical as we move forward." 

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