Written by Bobby Magill
When a Noble Energy crew was working on an oil and gas tank at an organic farm on May 29 east of Ault, a worker failed to open a valve correctly.
Soon, a processing equipment backup caused crude oil to spray across more than 150,000 square feet of an organic farm, requiring 240 cubic yards of contaminated soil to be scraped from the cropland.
“There was a very fine mist of oil that affected a small fraction of that field where we were growing organic oats,” said Sonja Tuitele, spokeswoman for Aurora Organic Dairy, which owns the land where the well was drilled.
The oats were removed from the field and now the dairy’s organic certifier is testing the land to ensure that the ground can be planted with organic crops again, she said.
There are nearly 22,000 oil wells in Northern Colorado — most operate without a hitch, but accidents happen.
The Coloradoan conducted an analysis of all oil spills and other mishaps reported in the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s oil and gas spill and release database in 2013 through June 11.
Among the more than 50,000 oil and gas wells across Colorado, 165 spills and releases of varying magnitudes statewide were included in the database during that time.
Of the total statewide spills, 15 were reported to have affected surface water and 24 were reported to have affected groundwater. Nearly all of the spills affecting groundwater — 23 — were in Weld and Adams counties.
Of the year’s 165 spills so far, 89 were in four Northern Colorado counties, including Larimer, Weld, Adams and Boulder. Two spills were reported to have contaminated surface water.
So far in 2013, three of Northern Colorado’s biggest oil and gas players — Noble Energy, PDC Energy and Anadarko — have been responsible for most of the spills overall and all but three of this year’s spills resulting in groundwater contamination.
Spills big and small
Most of Northern Colorado’s spills result from mechanical failure or human error. Whether spills are big or small can have little correlation to their environmental impact.
Follow reporter Bobby Magill at twitter.com/bobbymagill