'My Kids Are Scared': Deadly Colorado House Explosion Sparks Debate Over Drilling Setback Rules
Colorado residents, public safety advocates and local lawmakers have raised multiple concerns following the deadly house explosion in the town of Firestone that happened less than 200 feet away from an older vertical oil operated by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.
"If it happened at their house, can it happen at ours?" Heather Sawlidi, 31, who lives four houses away from the house, told The Denver Post.
"My kids are scared," she added. "I have a right to know."
Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the April 17 blast that claimed the lives of two men and severely injured one woman. In response, Anadarko shuttered more than 3,000 vertical wells "in an abundance of caution."
The incident has reignited a contentious issue over the region's booming housing and oil and gas developments pushing into the same areas.
As The Denver Post explained, thousands of people across the northern Front Range live in close proximity to thousands of older vertical wells:
"Of the 54,000 active oil and gas wells in the state, around 48,000 are older vertical wells," the Post reports. "About 5,700 are newer, horizontally drilled wells that have been criticized for their large scale and use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technology. Colorado has another 36,000 or more inactive and abandoned wells."
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director Matt Lepore said that the state imposes a 500-foot setback between new oil and gas wells and existing homes. However, local governments decide how close new homes can be built to existing wells.
The newly built Firestone house was built 178 feet away from the existing oil and gas well, well within the towns' standard of at least 150 feet.
But Shane Davis, a biologist who started the fracking resistance in Colorado several years ago and actually used to live in Firestone, said the state's setback rules—even at 500 feet—are inadequate to protect human life.
"I have no doubt whatsoever, this tragedy could have been prevented if we had a state governing agency that was balanced and put public health, safety and welfare first," Davis wrote Friday on his website Fractivist.org. "Oil and gas operations should never be in neighborhoods and houses should never be built around fracking well-pads."
A tipster pointed out to EcoWatch that just a week before the fatal Firestone explosion, state lawmakers killed a setback rule bill that would have prevented oil and gas producers from drilling wells within 1,000 feet of school property lines.
The source noted that Vicki Marble, who represents Firestone in the State Senate, was one of the six Republicans who voted against the bill.
As a precaution, another petroleum company, Great Western, already announced that it shut 61 gas lines within 250 feet of homes. Great Western owns oil wells in southwest Weld County where Firestone is located.
Nearby counties are also taking action. On Thursday, Boulder County commissioners called for all oil and gas companies operating in the county to shutter their vertical wells. The next day, Adams County similarly urged operators within the county to immediately inspect vertical wells within 250 feet of occupied buildings to ensure they are safe and meet all industry operating requirements.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director believes there is "no immediate threat to the environment or public safety associated with oil and gas operations in the neighborhood."
Depending on what investigators find from the Firestone probe, Lepore said regulators will decide whether to order other energy companies to take any action.
Meanwhile, Anadarko's stocks dropped 6.3 percent last week to a nine-month low after it announced the closure of 3,000 wells.
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By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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