The Flooding in Colorado's Effect on the Oil and Natural Gas Drilling

Massive rain storms in Colorado showered the Front Range and caused floods to shut down roads, schools and even towns. The downpours gathered steam in canyons and cascaded down onto towns below almost overnight, which devastated several communities and caused millions of dollars in damage. But the impact of the floods, could have been much worse, considering the region it hit is a current oil and natural gas hotbed.

To give an idea what caused the flooding, the city of Boulder, which typically sees slightly more than 20 inches of rain a year, received 17 inches in a week. Towns like Estes Park and Jamestown, along with almost the entire Front Range received equally impressive rain falls. These floods caused serious concern among residents about the current oil and natural gas activities in the Niobrara.

Right now there are two regions that see most of the drilling action in Colorado: the Piceance Basin west of the Rockies and the Wattenberg Field northeast of Denver in the Front Range. You can see current rigs that are drilling in the state of Colorado (per IHS as of today). They are marked by yellow pins on the Google Earth map below this paragraph. The green pins are rigs that were drilling during the first week of September, before the flooding started. According to IHS, 61 rigs are currently drilling in the state of Colorado. For reference Baker Hughes, reported 70 rigs were active in Colorado on Friday, which was up from 67 in the previous week: 

The Piceance is the yellow and green cluster of pins around 150 miles west of Denver. It's a natural gas play that has seen reduced drilling in previous years, and it was not effected by the flooding: 

While drilling in the Piceance has slowed down in previous years, you can see that drilling in the Wattenberg field has picked up. The Wattenberg starts several miles northeast of Denver and continues to travel up north past the Colorado-Wyoming border. There are 37 rigs currently in Weld County, per IHS, and this is the area that has seen the most flooding:

The blue lines are a few of the rivers that have done the most damage, so you can see how close they are to current drilling rigs. The rivers were hand drawn by tracing near the rivers, so there is a margin of error in that. As you can see below, some of the rivers do travel near drilling sites. Google put together a road closures map for Weld County which you can see laid over the top of the current rigs. Road closures are pictured in red:

Here is the northwest corner of the map. As you can see, the floods wreaked havoc on Loveland, Berthoud and Johnstown. Fortunately, though, there is not much drilling going on here.

It looks like I'm limited in how many pictures I can add to each post, so I'll split this up into two sections. The next post will go into more detail about the other regions.

Tags: COGACC, Colorado, Niobrara, flooding

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This is the southwest corner of the Front Range. You can see a lot of road closures here, as Longmont got pounded from the floods. Fortunately, there is minimal drilling in this region. In fact, when you look east of 85, where there actually is a lot of drilling going on, there was only one road closure from the floods. Thirteen rigs currently sit in this region east of the flooding. Here is a closer shot a little further east:

And, finally, the northeast corner of the picture. The three biggest losers here were Evans, La Salle and Milliken. The deluge shut down several sewage systems, roads and literally turned Milliken into an island. Again, though, the area that was hit the worst by the floods is not an area that has many rigs on it.

Obviously, there are many wells in the area and rigs are not 100% indicative of all well locations. There will be some deviance from older wells in this region. As of Thursday, there were a total of ten leaks that had been reported, with two of those being considered “notable” and eight being considered "minor."

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee reported 22,000 gallons of oil has contaminated the South Platte River valley plus one unconfirmed total from an Anadarko site. That’s around 524 barrels of oil. That figure will no doubt continue to rise over the next several weeks, but the contamination is not nearly as bad as it sounds.

The average pad houses four to ten tanks that are capable of holding up to 400 barrels of oil and water. As of Friday, in a once-in-one-thousand-year flood that effected (conservatively speaking) 3,500 square miles and hundreds of thousands of people, there was the equivalent of less than 1.5 tanks of oil spilled. Think about that.

The reason for the spill being minimized was the fast response from COGACC and the oil producers in the region, most notably Noble and Anadarko. Noble, which operates up to 8,000 wells in this region, shut in between 5-10% of these wells, and some of these closures can be done remotely.

Meanwhile, other potential leaks could be more serious.Here's a quote from Weld County spokeswoman Jennifer Finch.

"What we’re primarily worried about is the sewage and the [agricultural] runoff -- fertilizer stuff from people’s lawns, to manure from the dairy farms,” said Finch.

The negative response thrown up by the anti-fracking crowd is a response that should be expected. This flood and the resulting leaks have nothing to do with fracking, and as you have read, the oil and natural gas industry's fast response has minimized damages.


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