Fracking a Flood Plain: How Fracking Can Make a Natural Disaster So Much Worse
As a former resident of Colorado Springs, Colorado, my heart aches for all of those affected by massive flooding that has occurred over the past several days throughout the Colorado Front Range. Friends have updated me with photographs of their submerged backyards and homes, bike paths turned into a roaring rivers and powerful rapids consuming what used to be the quiet “Boulder Creek.” It saddens me that Colorado is dealing with yet another natural disaster – the state has been plagued by raging wildfires all summer. But, I am also troubled by something that has been substantially under-reported: possible widespread contamination from thousands of flooded oil and gas facilities. Might this be a precedent for more fracking disasters to come?
Weld County, one of several in Colorado inundated by the flood, is also one of the most heavily-fracked counties in Colorado. Photographs show oil and gas tanks toppled over by the surge, submerged well pads and footage of oil slicks floating on the surface of the floodwaters. Fracking Colorado’s flood plains puts the health and safety of local communities, and those downstream, in obvious danger.
At least one oil and gas pipeline and an unknown amount of storage tanks in the flooded area have busted and are leaking toxic, cancer-causing materials into the floodwaters. Furthermore, oil and gas facilitates often use open-air pits to store fracking wastewater laden with toxic chemicals. Hugh MacMillan, Senior Researcher at Food & Water Watch explains that when these pits fill with water, which they have, there is nothing lining the surface to prevent the fracking wastewater from spilling out of the pit and into the floodwaters, eventually reaching rivers and streams. Floodwaters containing toxic fracking chemicals such as benzene and toluene might contaminate the drinking water supply.
In addition, water contamination in the area will also affect wildlife and a vast amount of agricultural land. Weld County is also the largest agricultural county in Colorado. Leakage from oil and gas storage tanks, pits and pipelines is likely to affect crops and livestock. Small and medium sized farmers in the area have suffered consequences of extreme drought all summer while big agribusiness has been able to secure (i.e. buy) their water rights. Now, all ag producers must deal with a flood made worse by fracking.
Colorado has seen two ends of extreme weather in just a four-month time span. Earlier this summer it was severe drought and wildfires, and now, torrential flooding. Brad Udall, director of the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Getche’s Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment said the floods are likely a result of drought-hardened soil unable to absorb heavy rain, sparse vegetation due to wildfires and a warming climate that has produced unusually strong rain clouds. “As the climate warms further, the hydrologic cycle is going to get more intense,” he said.
Not only does the fracking process usurp one of the world’s most precious resources by using millions of gallons of fresh water per frack, but the process is not clean – its emissions exacerbate climate change. Contrary to what industry-sponsored research may claim, fracking emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide. The industry is a culprit in the climate change crisis that is devastating Colorado and communities abroad.
This November, Coloradans in five towns will vote on a local ballot measure to protect themselves from fracking in their respective communities. The oil and gas industry has the financial resources to amplify their pro-industry campaign, but the grassroots community is fighting hard to protect the health and safety of Colorado communities. That’s why Colorado needs your help. No matter your location, you can still contribute to the campaign to keep fracking out and to keep Coloradans safe.
Ultimately, it’s not just Colorado that is in need of strong support. The industry is targeting countries around the world to build fracking facilities in their local communities. But resistance is growing ‑ citizens around the globe do not want their homes put in danger at the expense of profit-driven corporate interests. On October 19, the global anti-fracking community will unite in a day of action to tell their respective leaders that oil and gas development is not a bridge to a clean energy future, it is inherently unsafe and it carries grave environmental and public health consequences.
For more information on how you can get involved in this world-wide day of action, please stay tuned this month as we prepare for the second annual Global Frackdown.