With over 21,000 active oil and gas wells in three Colorado counties hit hardest by the recent floods at least some damage to these sites was all but guaranteed.
Illustrating this damage, the Denver Post ran last Friday a splashy front-page photo of a supposedly damaged well “leaking crude.” The only problem? There’s no spill.
The well site in question, located near the town of Milliken in Weld County, is owned by Platteville, Colorado-based Synergy Resources. “We understand the media interest — and frenzy, if you will,” says Craig Rasmussen, the company’s vice-president of operations.
The aerial shot by Post photographer Andy Cross shows a white storage tank — listing but still standing — surrounded by patches of brownish fluid.
— The Denver Post (@denverpost) September 20, 2013
Despite its ominous appearance, the company says third-party environmental testing showed the muck was just dirty runoff with “no hydrocarbons whatsoever.” During the flood, “we actually took boats in to check on our stuff,” Rasmussen said. Photos of the site were posted on the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s website.
He says it would have been easy for the paper to determine the owner of the well. “Everything is so transparent in this industry; all those wells are listed on the [state regulators’] maps.”
“I was surprised,” Rasmussen says about not being contacted before the photo ran. “Nobody ever did reach out.”
On Thursday, Denver Post photo editor Tim Rasmussen told The Daily Caller News Foundation, “We are looking into this.” A correction was issued in Friday’s edition of the paper, citing an “editing error.”
According to COGA, the industry group, at least 822 barrels of oil have been released from at least 10 other well sites.
A fact-sheet on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s website warns of risks from wells but also sewage systems and farms: “The scale of the event and the environmental impacts of a broad and voluminous flow of contaminants across industries, agriculture and wastewater treatment facilities are important to keep in mind.”
In an interview with Fort Collins’ Coloradoan newspaper about public health risks from floodwater, Ken Carlson, a Colorado State University environmental engineering professor expressed more concern over raw sewage than oil. “I’m not worried about it,” he said.
Oil spills make for better headlines than raw sewage, though, and the oil and gas industry has been on the defensive since the rains turned torrential.
“We’re more frustrated for the industry as a whole,” Craig Rasmussen said. “We feel it’s been unfairly targeted.”
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