Colorado debates new gas line rules after fatal explosion

Author: Associated Press - January 9, 2018 - Updated: January 9, 2018

This 2008 photo shows a natural gas well pad in front of the Roan Plateau near the Colorado community of Rifle. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DENVER – Colorado regulators are considering proposed new rules for thousands of oil and gas pipelines after a fatal explosion last year blamed on leaking gas.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission opened two days of hearings Monday on regulations for installing, testing and shutting down flow lines, which carry oil and gas from wells to nearby equipment.

The rules for thousands of oil and gas pipelines are in response to an April 17 explosion in the town of Firestone that killed two people, injured a third and destroyed a house. Investigators said the explosion was caused by odorless, unrefined natural gas leaking from a severed flow line.

Investigators said the line was believed to be abandoned but was still connected to an operating well with the valve turned to the open position.

The flow line was severed about 10 feet from the house, and gas seeped into the home’s basement, investigators said. The well and pipeline were in place several years before the house was built.

La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachel is in Devner this week for the COGCC meeting. Lachelt was speaking on her own behalf and was granted party status on the talks after La Plata County commissioners voted 2-1 last year not to participate in the rule-making.

Lachelt presented that residents in La Plata County, which is home to nearly 3,500 gas and oil wells, live with wells and flowline infrastructure either on their property or their neighbors.

“Many of the Fruitland Formation wells and flowlines in the county are more than 30 years old,” Lachelt said. “Due to the tragic deaths of two men in Firestone caused by an abandoned flowline, to La Plata County’s aging oil and gas infrastructure and to unprecedented population growth in the county, the need for new flowline standards is paramount.”

Lachelt said she supported full public disclosure of the location of flowlines, gathering and transmission pipelines; surface owner and adjacent surface owner consultation and right to appeal regarding location and abandonment of flowlines; and local government authority to regulate flowline impacts, among other issues.

“We need a mandatory statewide pipeline and flowline mapping database that’s accessible to local governments and landowners,” Lachelt said. “Without this information, we can’t plan for growth or development or ensure the safety of our residents.”

The proposed rules are a significant expansion of existing ones. A final version will be drawn up after this week’s hearings. No date has been set for the commission’s seven voting members to approve or disapprove of the rules.

Colorado has nearly 129,000 flow lines within about 1,000 feet of occupied buildings, according to energy company reports submitted to the state last year.

The presence of homes and schools near oil and gas operations is a contentious issue in Colorado, especially in the booming Front Range urban corridor – including Firestone – which overlaps with an oil and gas field.

A 22-page draft of the new regulations says flow lines that are permanently taken out of service must be disconnected, drained and sealed at both ends and any above-ground portion must be removed. The rules also allow energy companies to simply remove the lines.

The proposal also would require energy companies to provide information on the location of flow lines to the Call 811 program, which marks the site of underground utilities at a property owner’s request. That’s meant to help homeowners and construction companies avoid inadvertently severing a line.

The proposed rules revise or add requirements for designing, installing, testing and documenting flow lines.

Shortly after the explosion, some state officials argued that Colorado should compile a map of all flow lines in the state and make it available online. But Gov. John Hickenlooper decided against that in August, citing concerns about security and theft.

Instead, he said the state would require energy companies to participate in the Call 811 program, saying that would make location information available to anyone who needs it.

The new rules also are intended to close some gaps in pipeline regulation.

Commission staffers noted last week that one federal agency, three state agencies and some local governments have at least some say in pipelines, but a few types of pipelines and activities don’t fall within any agency’s jurisdiction.

Durango Herald staff writer Jonathan Romeo contributed to this report.

Associated Press

Associated Press