Heavy rains, or as the National Weather Service described biblical rains, fell on north-central Colorado about 2 weeks ago resulting in flash floods that killed at least 8 people and displaced thousands more. The recent droughts and forest fires made the region susceptible to tremendous flooding.
One of the worst affected areas, Weld County, had about 20,000 active oil and gas wells prior to the flooding. Fracking infrastructure, including pipelines and tanks storing chemicals, have been inundated, spilling gallons of toxic chemicals. According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, nearly 2,000 oil and gas wells have been shut down in the region. Frac Focus, a website where energy firms can disclose substances they are using for fracking, states that that the wells in Weld County were using hydrochloric acid and benzyl chloride, both of which are severely irritating to skin and can cause irreversible damage to respiratory organs, eyes, skin and intestines. Authorities have been unable to determine what chemicals have spilled into the flooded waters as they are still working to rescue stranded individuals.
According to the Colorado state Department of Natural Resources, there have been five sizable releases of oil. Four of these instances involve a leak of about 22,000 gallons of oil. State authorities are also tracking 11 other locations with evidence of leaked oil and gas, though about 70% of the impacted area has not been assessed.
Some experts have down played the potential impact of the spilled fracking fluids saying the flooded water should dissolve any harmful chemicals in waste pits before the storm water reaches the underground aquifer or clean water source. Others contend that the washed away fertilizers and pesticides used on farmlands are a bigger concern.
The city of Lyons, located about 17 miles north of Boulder, has turned off tap water for its 2,000 residents. The city suffered a breach in the water treatment system and the water tested positive for the bacteria Escherichia coli. E. coli can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, pneumonia and other illnesses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Several other cities have issued boil water advisories.
According to preliminary estimates, about 1,900 homes have been destroyed while another 16,000 have suffered damage from the flooding which has also damaged 50 bridges and about 200 miles of roads. The preliminary cost for these repairs is estimated to be $135 million.
And the water, for now, is definitely not safe to drink.