Gas patch lawmakers bring late bill to map oil and gas well flowlines in wake of Firestone tragedy
Author: John Tomasic - May 5, 2017 - Updated: May 5, 2017
Gas patch lawmakers racing against the legislative clock on Friday introduced a bill that would grant state oil and gas regulators the power to map well flowlines and it would require drilling companies to share flowline maps with the state, cities and counties where drilling occurs and make the maps available to the public.
House Bill 1372 was introduced Friday morning and assigned to the House State Affairs committee, where it will be heard Friday afternoon. This year’s legislative session ends on Wednesday.
The bill sponsors, Front Range gas patch Democratic Reps. Mike Foote from Lafayette and Steve Lebsock from Thornton, are acting in response to widespread resident concern in the wake of the April 17 house explosion in Firestone. Two men died in the explosion while working on a water heater in a basement filled with unrefined odorless gas from an abandoned and uncapped oil and gas well flowline.
Foote and Lebsock said they have been in talks about the bill with Republican lawmakers, including Firestone Rep. Lori Saine and House Minority Leader Cole Wist. They have also consulted with oil and gas industry representatives, state regulators, local governments and the office of Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“We want to get the language right,” said Foote. “The timeline is obviously very challenged… We only just learned about the cause of explosion on Tuesday and we’ve had constituents all around the Front Range contacting us.”
Foote said it was important to act now, even given the short timeline, because it’s unclear whether the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has the authority to require industry operators to turn over flowline mapping data.
Tens of thousands of active and inactive wells and even more well flowlines criss-cross drilling fields in Colorado. As the cause of the tragedy in Firestone came to light, regulators reported that there were no comprehensive flowline maps to consult.
Earlier this week, Gov. John Hickenlooper described the events in Firestone as a “tragedy of immense intensity” and called on operators in May and June to map and inspect well flowlines within 1000 feet of buildings across the state and to make the maps available to the public.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable for that to be public information,” he said. “Those flowlines even after they are capped — we want to make sure they are capped at some point — their locations should be a matter of public record.”
“That would probably take legislation,” he said. He was acknowledging the fact that moving any kind of bill that concerns the oil and gas industry has been a major lift in Colorado.
Ghe industry strongly opposed a bill sponsored by Foote this session aimed at expanding the 1,000 foot buffer separating drilling operations from schools. It also opposed a bill that would have granted individual mineral rights owners more time and information when faced with industry “pooling” proposal that can force individuals to sell their rights and at low prices.