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House Democrats Urge Congress to Investigate Oil and Gas Spills

Representatives Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., in a letter sent Friday to the House Natural Resources Committee, called for a hearing on the spills. DeFazio is the committee's senior Democrat. "Not only have my constituents been dealing with damage to their homes, schools and roads, they are increasingly concerned about the toxic spills that have occurred from the flooding of nearly 1,900 fracking wells in Colorado," Polis said in a press release. "Congress must deal with this issue to ensure that natural disasters do not also become public-health disasters," and, he added, "A hearing which brings all the information forward, unfiltered by potentially biased sources, would be good for the public and public policy."

Eight people were killed and thousands displaced by what some called a once-in-a-millennium storm. Now that the water has receded, oil- and gas-industry teams have been able to get into the fields to inspect the damage. Colorado's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission ("COGCC") said in its latest report Thursday that it was tracking 12 spills, 14 sites with evidence of a small spill and 60 sites with visible damage to storage tanks. "People dealing with aftermath of a catastrophic natural disaster don't need to worry that their health is at risk because of oil and gas spills," DeFazio said.

Noble Energy reported at least four spills totaling roughly 9,000 gallons. In the wake of the storms, the Houston-based company said in a press release that "protection of human health and the environment remain Noble Energy's top priorities as we continue to move forward." In their letter to the House committee, Polis and DeFazio said it would be beneficial to learn more about how disasters like this can affect communities. "We respectfully request that you hold a committee hearing as soon as possible so that we may fully understand the potential grave consequences resulting from this flood," Polis and DeFazio wrote. The COGCC said it has teams in the field that have inspected 736 well locations and covered about 70 percent of the flood-affected area.

Colorado's Department of Public Health and Safety warned residents about untreated sewage possibly contaminating floodwaters but did not mention risks posed by oil and gas leaks, saying, "Flood waters may have moved hazardous chemical containers of solvents or other industrial chemicals from their normal storage places." But photos of leaking fracking fluid, oil spills, natural-gas blowouts and toppled tanks have united local environmentalists to echo the call for tougher regulations.

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