Who stepped up during Colorado’s epic 500-year flood?

(Editor’s note: This content is sponsored by Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED).

No one who lived through the flood of September 2013 or followed it in the media will ever forget it. Flood waters along the Front Range forced the evacuation of more than 18,000 people and destroyed over 1,850 homes. More than 200 miles of state highways and 50 bridges were damaged. Ten people died.

A year later, families and communities are still recovering from it.

“I’ve been in the industry 30 years, and I’ve never seen a catastrophic event like this,” said Mike Guinn, a district manager for Noble Energy who served as incident commander during the storm response.

Of course, along with the damage and uncertainty were fears of catastrophic oil and gas leaks in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, one of the hardest-hit flood areas. But the dire scenario stoked by environmental alarmists and self-proclaimed fracktavists proved to be unfounded when studies showed only a handful of isolated spills had washed away with the flood waters and were undetectable. In fact, water samples taken by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) showed leaked sewage, not oil or gas, was the real public-health threat.

“There were no significant (oil or gas) discharges found by the EPA,” David Ostrander, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s emergency response and preparedness program, told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

What this “500 year flood” did reveal was the willingness of Colorado’s oil and gas industry to roll up its collective sleeves and help others in a time of need, even as anti-fracking activists were preoccupied with finding mishaps to use as fodder for their anti-fracking agenda.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association and its member companies immediately launched a fundraising drive for the American Red Cross that, within two months of the flood, raised $2.1 million. Some 39 companies with operations in the area chipped in, led by Noble Energy’s pledge of $500,000.

“We didn’t have to go out to the industry and make an ‘ask,’” said Gino Greco, regional CEO of the American Red Cross. “They came to us, ready
to respond.”

The help wasn’t just companies giving money, but employees – many of whom live in the impacted areas themselves –  who gave their time for tasks such as street clean-up in Boulder, debris clean-up in Evans, ripping out damaged drywall from homes in Lyons and Longmont and delivering truckloads of bottled water where it was needed in Boulder, Longmont and Evans.

A crew from Halliburton answered a Lyons couple’s call for help and arrived the next day to pump water out of their home with the company’s equipment. In Milliken, volunteers served nearly 600 barbecue lunches and dinners to evacuees, emergency responders and U.S. National Guard teams.

“We had 30 volunteers one morning and 30 different volunteers in the afternoon, and we processed over 57,000 pounds of food at the Weld County Food Bank,” recalled Doug Campbell, landman for Noble Energy and a member of the company’s incident command team. In the end, an industry viewed by some as a threat when the flood hit proved to be a valued ally. 

“Our job is to provide energy, but at the end of the day, what was really moving to me was that we came together to be a part of Colorado’s recovery,” said Tisha Conoly Schuller, president and CEO of COGA. “You have a tragedy, and oil and gas employees turn out to ensure their neighbors are taken care of.”