3 Years Later: A Look Back at the Colorado Floods

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3 Years Later: A Look Back at the Colorado Floods 
Dan Haley, President & CEO, Colorado Oil & Gas Association

You don’t have to live long in Colorado to realize just how unpredictable – and severe — the weather can be. We can have snow in June, beautiful spring-like days in February and hail in October.

And we can have massive flooding in September, as we did just three years ago.

That’s why it’s important to remember that the oil and gas industry prepares for years for just these types of situations, and that Colorado has developed and implemented industry-leading regulations to ensure maximum preparedness for natural disasters.

The historic flood of 2013 is a good example of what can happen when industry is prepared. It also is a good reminder of what can happen when industry comes together to help communities. Weld County is home to a vast majority of oil and gas development in Colorado, and it was hit hard by the floods. Many of the residents and political and business leaders there have stood with us over the years, so it was very important for us to be there for them during those difficult weeks and months.

A look back

flood mapOn September 9, 2013, a slow moving cold front stalled over Colorado, dropping record amounts of rainfall across 17 counties, and triggering a 100-year flood event. Locations within the storm’s epicenter received up to 600% of their average annual rainfall for September in just 5 days. The damage was unprecedented with 17,500 homes destroyed, over 500 miles of road damaged, 50 bridges damaged or destroyed, and, thousands of people displaced from their homes.

The oil and gas industry was prepared and able to respond to the flood immediately; opening incident command centers, shutting in wells, enacting emergency action plans, and activating around the clock monitoring and response at their facilities- all before the floodwaters started pool graphicrising. The majority of operators in the DJ Basin had little to no impact to their well sites with the operations impacted ranging from standing water to fast moving flood waters.

Of the 20,000 wells in the DJ Basin, 2,658 were shut-in at the peak of the flood, with only 13 notable releases of oil and 17 incidents of produced water releases. To put these numbers in perspective, the overall incident per well rate was less than 1 percent, and the total volume of incidental oil releases was equal to 7.3 percent of an Olympic-size swimming pool. The quick and coordinated response from the industry was the result of an impressive safety record, preparation, and cooperation among operators, state and local agencies, and industry organizations.

Lending a hand

helping floodOnce the floodwaters receded the cleanup process began, leaving many Coloradans with the overwhelming task of returning to badly damaged homes and communities. The Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) partnered with The American Red Cross and for the recovery effort, organized volunteer efforts, and mobilized the oil and gas industry to assist in the cleanup effort. Over the course of four weeks, teams were deployed to help with debris removal, repair operations, providing drinking water, warm meals, food, clothing, and $70,000 worth of gift cards for families to purchase basic necessities.

This effort culminated with the donation of more than $2 million from COGA member companies to the American Red Cross to further support flood recovery.

Preparing for the future

Today, Colorado has developed and implemented industry leading regulations to ensure maximum preparedness for natural disasters. Effective June 1, 2015 for all new wells and equipment, and April 1, 2016 for all retrofitting of existing equipment, all storage tanks must be surrounded with hardened berms; critical equipment must be anchored; existing pits containing exploration and production waste must be removed; and operators must be able to remotely shut down all their wells.

For more information on these regulations visit the COGCC website.

In addition, operators have come together to create a best management practice’s manual to address overall siting of wells and pads, wellheads, tanks and flowlines, and general procedures for floodplain operations.

The 2013 floods were an unprecedented natural disaster in Colorado and impacted many communities, families, and industries. The response from the oil and gas industry was strong and authentic, and continues to be a source of pride for COGA and the industry. With the implementation of new regulations for oil and gas development in floodplains, the state is once again leading the way with precedent setting regulations that will continue to ensure the responsible development of oil and gas resources in Colorado.

Supporting Flood Recovery in Louisiana

In late August, historic flooding in Louisiana devastated tens of thousands of lives. The Colorado Oil & Gas Association is partnering with the Red Cross to help the people impacted by the floods and have set a fundraising goal of $25,000.  Red Cross workers provide shelter, food, and comfort for those impacted and will continue to remain on the ground as the recovery continues. In 2013, hundreds of thousands of dollars of out of state donations came in to help Colorado recover from our own floods – now is our time to give back. Please visit http://www.redcross.org/cm/coga-pub to donate now.