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Colo. oil and gas commission works on new safety rules

Author: Mark Jaffe - August 21, 2018 - Updated: September 10, 2018

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The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will focus this fall on developing financial and safety guarantees for wells, orphan wells and flow lines in rule makings and working groups, Julie Murphy, the commission’s executive director, said Tuesday.

Most of the initiatives stem from the home explosion in Firestone caused by a cut  oil and gas well flowline in April 17, 2017 that killed two men and injured a woman and child. In the wake of the accident, Gov. John Hickenlooper called for a series of policy changes.

In February 2018 the oil and gas commission approved new rules to give local government and residents a better idea of the location and flowlines and require oil and gas companies to participate in the 811 safety notification system that lets homeowners and contractors know the location of buried lines and pipes.

In July, Hickenlooper signed an executive order  directing the commission to ramp up efforts to plug abandoned or orphan wells, another pathway for pollution to reach homes. The commission has identified priority wells and will make its first report in September.

Murphy, who spoke Tuesday at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s Energy Summit in Denver, outlined four initiatives upon which the commission be focusing on for the rest of the year. COGA is an industry trade group.

A flowline stakeholders group, working with Colorado State University and the Colorado School of Mines, is looking at technological advances in leak detection integrity management. Murphy said it is an “opportunity to bring in the best available technology.”

Another question the stakeholder group will look at is risk management, whether flowlines in different settings, such as suburban areas, require different management. The group’s report is due by March 2019.

The oil and gas  commission also is set to convene a group to review the financial insurance — or bonding — requirements for oil and gas operations looking to see what elements may need to be modernize or updated. “In a constantly evolving industry how do we meet that and protect Colorado,” Murphy said. The group’s recommendations will be made by December.

The COGCC will be involved in developing two new rules this fall. One will deal with so-called forced pooling, in which a driller can get an order from the commission consolidating mineral rights even those of owner’s to refuse to sign a lease.

A bill passed by the legislature and signed by the governor in June affords those property owners more protections in the process and the COGCC will now set the new rules.

The oil and gas commission will also undertake a second rule making on the siting of oil and gas operations near schools. The current rule requires a well pad to be at least 1,000 feet from a school building.

There were protests, however, when Extraction Oil and Gas Inc. located a drill site the required distance from the Bella Romero Elementary School building in Greeley but left it right next to the school’s playing fields.

In July, the commission agreed to review the siting rules. “We hope to wrap this up in December,” Murphy said.

The oil and gas  commission is also creating a two pilot projects for ambient methane detection technology. The legislature appropriated $50,000 for the pilots and Murphy said contracts would soon be let.

Mark Jaffe

Mark Jaffe

Mark Jaffe has covered energy, environment and government issues for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Bloomberg News and The Denver Post. He was a Knight Fellow at Stanford University and studied environmental economics as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. He is the author of two books, "And No Birds Sing, The story of an ecological disaster in a tropical paradise" and "The Gilded Dinosaur-The fossil war between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the rise of American science."