Food safety issues crop up in the aftermath of the September flooding #COflood

Flooded corn crop September 2013
Flooded corn crop September 2013

From the Food Safety News (Kelly Damewood):

The FDA guidance states that floodwaters may be exposed to sewage, chemicals, heavy metals, pathogenic microorganisms or other contaminants. Even if floodwaters do not come into contact with a crop, they can still cause microbial contamination, and plants may take up chemical contaminants from the soil. Additionally, the soil and plant life could develop mold and toxins from standing water.

So far, the floods have caused more than 37,000 gallons of oil to spill into or nearby rivers and also dislodged wastewater storage tanks used for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). Other dangers in the floodwaters include fertilizers, pesticides, animal manure, human sewage and animal carcasses.

The FDA guidance instructs producers to properly dispose of any crops that have come into direct contact with floodwaters. Other crops must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) does not have an estimate for the amount of crops impacted by the floods because the fields are under too much standing water to evaluate the damages. CDA did confirm that corn was the only animal feed left in the fields. If the corn is harvested, then CDA can test for contamination under its usual testing program.

Because most sources report that the floodwaters mostly impacted fields without crops, the more important evaluation will likely be an assessment of flood-affected fields before replanting.

Evaluating whether farmland is contaminated largely depends on whether the farm was flooded by excess precipitation or rising bodies of water, according to Elizabeth A. Bihn, Ph.D., director of the Produce Safety Alliance. A field is more likely to be contaminated if it was flooded by a nearby water source, she said.

From The Denver Post (Mark Jaffe):

Oil and gas companies in the Colorado’s flood soaked Denver-Julesburg Basin say they are drawing lessons from 500-year flood that swept across hundreds of square miles of the Front Range.

One of the biggest of those lessons was that earth berms got washed away and with them tanks storing oil and water. Metal berms — which are really more like fences -– held in even floating tanks. There have been spills of 1,042 barrels of petroleum fluids and 430 barrels of production water, containing well impurities, for a total of nearly 62,000 gallons, according to the state. Almost all that came from dislodged tanks or valves or pipes connected to tanks.

“We’ll look for anything in the lower flood plain with steel containment. … These held up really well,” said Dan Kelly, Noble Energy vice president for the DJ Basin. Noble is the largest oil and gas operator in the basin with about 8,000 wells. Noble has been using steel containment on all new wells, but there were old, legacy wells that had earthen works and the state recorded spills at four Noble sites totaling about 9,700 gallons.

Encana Corp., the fourth largest operator in the basin, with about 1,100 wells, has during the last three years replaced earthen berms with the steel fences at its 425 tank batteries, said Pete Straub, the company’s head of DJ Basin field operations. “We had some produced water tanks that that been buried and were light and floated, but nothing floated away,” Straub said.

The other technology that companies said served them well was the telemetry systems which enabled wells to be shut-in remotely. “We have the capability to close wells within a matter of minutes,” said Ted Brown, a Noble senior vice president. Noble closed 758 wells as the rains started to become heavy – some by radio, some manually. About 394 remain closed, the company said.

Noble has a control room in its Greeley headquarters where it can monitor all its wells. For Encana, whose Longmont office were surrounded by flood waters, many of the 397 wells it shut-in where handled by a Encana employee with a laptop and an Aircard, Straub said. “It gives use flexibility … and it worked,” Straub said. Encana still has 61 wells shut, some for production reasons and some because the ground around them is still not firm, Straub said.

At the peak of the flooding a total of 1,900 wells were shut-in…

The companies say they are now conducting full reviews as is the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. “Nothing is fortunate about this but we will take the knowledge we’ve gained in the last two to three weeks and we will absolutely incorporate into future plans,” Noble’s Kelly said

The concern of environmental and conservation groups, however, is that oil and gas operations shouldn’t be located in the flood plains, regardless of the technology. “You are putting industrial activity and potential pollution in harms way,” said Gary Wockner, Colorado program director for Clean Water Action. “Oil and gas activities have to be more tightly regulated in flood plains.”

“We’ll sit down with regulators and go through all this because I know there is a lot of talk about that right now,” said Noble’s Brown.

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