The oil and gas industry should move operations as far from Colorado waterways as possible and do a better job of flood-proofing wells and tanks, according to a state report released Monday.
The report by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff on "lessons learned" from the September floods that ravaged the Front Range recommends new oil and gas regulations.
Among the requirements would be more information on operations near waterways and better construction and safety equipment.
The massive floods forced the closure of 2,658 wells at the peak of the storms, washed out berms, broke pipes and swept away oil and gas tanks. The commission staff determined there were 1,614 wells in the flood zone. "Many oil and gas facilities located near flooded streams were damaged," the report said. "Oil, condensate and produced water spilled into the environment."
About 48,250 gallons of oil and condensate spilled, and more than 43,478 gallons of produced water were released, according to the report. The Colorado Oil & Gas Association, issued a statement immediately after the report was released. "COGA does not believe any legislative or statutory changes are necessary," association president Tisha Schuller said in a statement. "We will continue to work with the commission to share lessons learned and continually improve best management practices," Schuller said. The oil and gas commission, a regulatory panel appointed by the governor, is slated to take up the report's recommendations at its April meeting.
"This report is a first step," said Alan Gilbert, the state Department of Natural Resources' flood response coordinator. "We need to figure out what if anything the state should do and what the industry should do," Gilbert said. The oil and gas commission has identified 20,850 wells within 500 feet of rivers, streams and drainages, including 5,900 near significant waterways. "We are concerned by the number of wells so close to our surface waters," said Laura Belanger, a water resource engineer with the environmental group Western Resource Advocates. "Even without floods, there are a lot of spills," she said. The report noted problem areas such as flowing water eroding earthen berms and foundations below tanks and equipment. "Early on, there were widespread fears that public safety was threatened by damaged oil and gas equipment" during the floods, the report said. "Those fears later proved to be unfounded, but they attracted nationwide attention." Among the recommended requirements for wells and operations near waterways are:
• Inventories of wells and equipment.
• Automatic shut-in valves for wells within a designated distance of the normal high-water mark. These were very effective during the September flood.
• No pits allowed within a designated distance of the high water mark.
• Secondary containment constructed of steel berms and synthetic liners around wells and tanks. No earthen berms.
• Tanks and equipment must be secured to the ground with anchors and cables.
• Structural fencing must be located upstream to protect the well site.
• Tanks and production equipment should be located as far from waterways as possible.
The report also recommended that the oil and gas commission upgrade its emergency management procedures. "This doesn't go far enough," said Bill Dvorak, a public lands organizer for the National Wildlife Federation. "We really need riparian setbacks to keep oil and gas operations away from streams." At their April meeting, the oil and gas commissioners will decide which recommendations they want to pursue, the Department of Natural Resources' Gilbert said.