It reminded me of a time long, long ago in a far-off land when I was in the military, and we were sometimes jolted awake and scrambled into readiness for some unknown threat.
In this day and age it wasn't a trumpet call or a siren but a social media alert on Facebook sent to me by my daughter Tamsin, saying that as of Monday of the floods in Colorado, there was a news blackout on the flooded oil and gas wells and fracking operations in the heavily drilled areas of Weld County. Why was there no coverage of certain disastrous side effects from the 1,000 year flood that devastated so many towns up and down the Front Range of Colorado? A quick search showed that although media reporting of the damage to the towns and hamlets was pretty extensive. However, there was indeed no coverage on the state of the oil and gas infrastructure, and the potential collateral damage to the communities and the environment. The fact is that Weld County leads the country as the most heavily drilled county - over 20,000 active wells. The area has little or no setbacks for rivers and streams, leaving hundreds of wells on the flood plains of the South Platte River.
Did the wells leak undisclosed fracking fluids into the water system? Did the contaminants in the tanks which were pushed over by the floodwaters add pollution to an already unacceptable situation? We needed to find the answers or at least make the people in charge ask the right questions.
So it was a scramble as 1XE and I set out on Tuesday, September 17th, the first day of sunshine after a week of intense rain, and arrived at Rocky Mountain Metro, an airport between Denver and Boulder. We set up operations for a number of days, flying every media outlet available, and working closely with Frack-Free Colorado and Fractivist. We flew news teams, activists and experts, including Reuters, CNN and CBS hitting national and local news all over the country. Days of flying allowed us to capture some very upsetting images and stirred controversial discussions and debates.
The flight line proved to be extremely challenging as along with a usually very busy Denver airspace, National Guard Chinooks and Blackhawks traversed the area while helicopters and surveillance single engine aircraft from the industry wove their way up and down the South Platte River.
Over the last decade as the oil and gas boom has gone unchecked in the Rocky Mountain West, and industry assures us there is no danger of spills or contamination, I have been documenting the close proximity of wells to water sources and communities. And yet, as I write this, the state is tracking at least 18 oil and gas spills in the flooded areas and our flight passengers from East Boulder County United are currently working to address some of these concerns through an all-out ban on fracking within the city of Lafayette.
It is unfortunate that it takes some kind of a catastrophic event to open many eyes to the fact that our oil and gas regulations regarding human safety and setbacks for rivers and streams are sorely lacking, and need to be in place as we continue to develop our resources in a responsible way.