Flooded oil equipment. Photo credit The Guardian.
Recently parts of Colorado, including Boulder and the surrounding areas, were hit by some pretty bad flooding. Flooding can cause all sorts of damage from water entering areas not normally constructed for vast quantities of water, aside from the damage to homes and people. In this case there were numerous areas where oil and gas related equipment were flooded, in some cases leading to leaks and\or spills. David Blackmon of Forbes took a look at the damage, and then compared it to the damage done elsewhere from flooding:
Early last week, as the floods were peaking, activists in the area began posting photos on the web that they alleged were “proof” that such massive releases of oil and other oilfield chemicals from well sites in the area were taking place. Actually, close inspection of the pictures showed nothing of the sort, but the activists know their regular contributors have little means of understanding that, and continued their efforts to mislead them and the local news media throughout the week.
The truth is that the oil and gas industry employs all sorts of safety measures to ensure such spills do not occur at their sites, and that, while there have been some spills as a result of the flooding, they amount to a small fraction of the releases from other sources, such as municipal waste facilities and agricultural and industrial sites.
Luckily, regulators and the Colorado media haven’t been fooled by the Fracktivists’ efforts to mislead. The Denver Post carried a story over the weekend quoting reports from state regulators detailing about 500 barrels – about 20,000 gallons – of oilfield spills, and then went on to put that in proper context:
The growing spill volumes still are small by oil and gas industry standards, and they rank low in comparison with other contaminants leaked this past week as debris-filled floodwaters rushed through northern Colorado. Other industrial chemicals and agricultural waste, including runoff from feedlots, seeped into flood torrents — not to mention millions of gallons of municipal sewage from compromised water treatment plants.
Do read the entire post here, which includes a discussion of how this issue relates to “ambulance chasers.” It seems as though the actual damage done from oil spilling pales in comparison to damage done from numerous other sectors that were hit by the flooding. It also seems that the oil and gas drillers might have even done a commendable job given the difficult situation they were in.
This isn’t to say that anyone should be happy about the oil spilling, but it’s important to keep the spill in perspective, which — unsurprisingly — the environmentalists avoid. Floods like this are incredibly rare, thankfully, and sometimes we aren’t prepared for very rare events.
Policymakers need to have accurate, factual information about what is happening in major disasters like this, so that they can respond appropriately with the right policy actions. Disinformation campaigns from Fracktivists like the one we’ve seen in Colorado this past week only make it that much harder to get the policy right.