A storage tank damaged by flooding spilled 7,500 gallons of oil into Colorado’s Cache la Poudre River on Friday.
According to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, high floodwaters caused the Noble Energy storage tank to dip down onto a bank, damaging a valve that caused oil to leak out of the tank. The oil has gathered on vegetation up to a quarter mile downstream, but officials say the spill isn’t ongoing. Cleanup crews are working to remove oil from the riverbanks with vac-trucks and absorbent materials, and officials say no drinking water has been affected.
Right now, it’s unclear what the extent of the spill’s ecological impacts will be. Noble Energy has drained the oil from a tank nearby to the damaged tank as a precaution.
Flooding has been a contributor to oil spills in Colorado before. Last fall, historic floods ravaged Colorado and damaged oil and gas tanks, leading to at least 10 spills. Two tank batteries spilled about 5,225 gallons into the state’s South Platte River, and more tanks spilled 13,500 gallons near Platteville, CO. The flooding hit one of the most densely-drilled areas in the country, and as of October, the full extent of the spills was unknown, though official numbers stood at 43,000 gallons of oil and more than 18,000 gallons of fracking wastewater spilled. As climate change exacerbates the torrential downpours that lead to flooding in parts of the U.S., states will have to contend with this new threat to oil and gas infrastructure.
The news of Colorado’s oil spill also comes as an Environment America report finds that 849,610 pounds of toxic chemicals were released into Colorado rivers and streams in 2012. Nitrate pollution, which typically stems from agriculture operations, was the most common form of release, leading to algal blooms and dead zones in Colorado’s waterways.
“If we suck all the oxygen out of rivers, then there are no fish and our rivers become lifeless,” John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America, told the Denver Post. “This toxic pollution is a reminder of why we need the strongest protection we can get under the Clean Water Act.”
The Cache la Poudre River hasn’t been spared this nitrate pollution — the report found that the Western Sugar Cooperative in Greeley, CO released 12,394 pounds of nitrates into the river in 2012.