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In Wake of Colorado Flooding, U.S. Reps Call for Hearing on Oil and Gas Spills

Energy
In Wake of Colorado Flooding, U.S. Reps Call for Hearing on Oil and Gas Spills

Two House Democrats, Rep. Polis (D-CO) and Rep. DeFazio (D-OR), have called on the House Natural Resources Committee to investigate numerous oil and gas spills during Colorado’s devastating floods in September. The hearing would call on members of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and local elected officials to share their assessments of the damage the flooding has caused—and may cause in the future.

In a letter to committee Chairman Doc Hastings, Polis and DeFazio wrote, “We are concerned that these spills and leaks may pose health risks to individuals who are already dealing with damage and destruction to their homes and property. As Congress continues to consider policies to expand domestic oil and gas production, we would benefit from learning more about how disasters like this can impact local communities, states and federal regulators.”

Despite efforts by oil and gas companies to minimize the damage, 14 leaks and spills have been documented in Colorado, according to reports by the National Response Center. Noble Energy reported a minimum of four spills totaling around 9,000 gallons. As of Wednesday, the COGCC counted a total of 1,027 barrels—or 43,134 gallons—spilled in the wake of the flooding.

Rep. Bush (D-CO) whose district includes Routt and Eagle counties, is concerned about potential short- and long-term health impacts the leaks and spills could have on afflicted communities. “Any oil or condensate has the BTEX [benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene] component and many others,” she told Colorado Public News. “All of those are very contaminating in a water body in relatively small portions. I think it’s really important that we don’t minimize what’s in there, but at the same time that we don’t have a huge overreaction either.”

Democratic politicians and environmentalists in the state hope a congressional hearing will focus attention on the state’s lackluster regulation of industry.

"Because the oil and gas industry is extremely powerful in Colorado, they basically fight every regulation and control much of the state government to make sure they don’t have to do everything they can to protect the public’s health and the environment,” Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action.

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY and FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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