Sunday, September 15, 2013

Colorado Floods Break Pipeline and Engulf Gas Wells

photo by Andy Cross/ the Denver Post

The rain pummeling Colorado this past week caused epic flooding. Photos show miles of devastation: homes lost, crops underwater, surviving livestock on flooded pastures, people in shelters.

In addition to rescuing stranded people, emergency crews have also had to contend with broken oil and gas pipelines - and those that haven't broken yet are exposed due to eroded ground.

According to reports from the Denver Post, "Oil drums, tanks and other industrial debris mixed into the swollen river flowing northeast. County officials did not give locations of where the pipeline broke and where other pipelines were compromised." 

Weld County is home to about 20,000 oil and gas wells, and companies have been drilling on the flood plains. Once the gas and oil companies were notified of the threats, they began shutting down drilling operations and transmission pipelines. Even so, that still leaves wells, tanks, gathering lines and transmission lines in the path of raging waters.

In a statement to the press Gary Wockner, of Clean Water Action, said "Fracking and operating oil and gas facilities in floodplains is extremely risky. Flood waters can topple facilities and spread oil, gas, and cancer-causing fracking chemicals across vast landscapes making contamination and clean-up efforts exponentially worse and more complicated."

What does a flooded gas well look like? Here's a video that was posted to Facebook Friday evening.

 video link:

No one expected this type of flooding: it's a one-in-500-year type of event, aided in part by hillsides denuded of trees resulting from wildfires over the past couple years. Even so, the results illustrate the risks of drilling in flood plains. Even when the company shuts off the drilling or shuts down a pipeline, there is little they can do to prevent flood waters from ripping tanks from their moorings or washing frack pit waste downstream.

update: check Texas Sharon's excellent blog, Blue Daze for updates on this issue.

More Photos of gas and oil infrastructure in the floodlands: (from the Boulder area):

More photos at


  1. This is so alarming. Why are people drilling in flood plains? The same thing can happen (and did happen a couple of years ago) in Bradford County, PA. And in so many other places. Are we just taking the "hope it doesn't happen here" approach?

  2. That is pipeline equipment not a gas or oil well

    1. Looks like the gas wells I have seen.

    2. That is a pipeline pig launcher. Similar looking to a wellhead but completely different. This is used to send inspection/service equipment down a pipeline to a receiving station somwhere downstream.
      Here is a common wellhead for reference:

  3. There was a major flooding incident along the San Jacinto River in Texas in 1994. The NTSB looked into it later on, since a number of pipelines failed there. First to break was an Exxon LPG pipeline:

    "Exxon crews worked through the night installing equipment to enable the company to release and burn the LPG in the isolated pipeline segment. They could not close the west bank manual valve because it was under water; however, in the evening of October 19, they closed a manual valve farther west of the crossing to isolate the leak to a 4-mile segment."

    Oops! Exxon shut down, & nitrogen purged 3 other pipelines nearby along that river crossing.

    Colonial Pipeline's 40 inch mainline was the next pipeline ruptured there:

    "About 8:31 a.m. on October 20, the operator of Colonial’s Houston, Texas, pump station, (located about 12 miles west of the San Jacinto River) telephoned the controller at Colonial’s Atlanta, Georgia, control center. He advised the controller that the rate of flow in the 40-inch pipeline, which was transporting gasoline, had increased significantly. At 8:32 a.m., while the controller and the Houston operator were discussing the increased flow rate, an alarm came from the Shiloh pump station, located about 29 miles east of the San Jacinto River. The alarm told the controller that suction pressure in the line had fallen from normal pressures of about 40-50 psig6 to 23 psig."

    Why Colonial was unaware of the flooding there, and still pumping along boggles my mind some. The Colonial 36 inch line next to their 40 inch line was not pumping, but, it was full of product, and , it failed later on.

    "About 2:45 p.m., the Incident Commander requested the Channelview Fire Department to call DIGTESS, a local pipeline one-call notification system,9 to obtain a listing of companies that operated pipelines adjacent to the river that might be affected by the flooding. He learned from the Colonial representative that the mainline valves on Colonial’s failed 36-inch pipeline had been closed at Pasadena and Trinity, Texas, isolating the failure to a 30-mile long segment of the pipeline (containing about 196,000 bbls or 8.2 million gallons of petroleum)."

    So, the local Fire Dept. did not know all the pipelines there, despite rules about pipeline training first responders made years before this incident. So, call DIGTESS, a version of one call, to figure out who has pipelines here. Valero then had a 12 inch natural gas pipeline along the San Jacinto here rupture, then, a Texaco 20 inch crude oil line.

    The situation continued to be a mess there, with locals having smoke inhalation from a semi-planned burn of the various petroleum component s there. I'll leaving it to the rest of you to check out that NTSB report.

  4. What happened when the flood waters hit an Ethanol plant? Don't want to write about it? What happened when flood waters hit a fertilizer plant? No Saudi money for those stories? What happened when flood waters hit a landfill? No Progressive Agenda against landfills this year? You guys are scaring me that you're so fake.

    1. 20,000 oil & gas wells are a little different to 'a' fertilizer plant and 'an' ethanol plant. So none of this is news worthy or real enough for you because this blogger has an agenda ?

    2. Good question, "unknown". What does happen when severe flooding hits ethanol plants? oil refineries? fertilizer plants? any heavy industrialized activity?
      Exactly the sorts of things that SHOULD be considered before those things are allowed in: flood plains, near residential areas, near schools, near village wellheads. Thank you for bringing it up! Hopefully you will take some action beyond writing anonymous comments.

    3. Sue, don't you know that only LIBERALS are required to report dangers to the populace and DAMN them if they forget one or two of them. Conservatives are far too busy protecting the rights of zygotes, bible thumpers and gun nuts.

  5. Let's stop this madness! Garfield County has half as many wells as Weld County, in what used to be remote, wild areas and pristine, productive ranch and farm land. If more fires come our way, or severe rains make the Colorado River swell beyond its banks, we'll be joining the efforts going on in the Front Range in disaster relief. Sign my petition to ban fracking on public lands.