Pipelines map must be understandable, say sponsors of Colorado bill fueled by Firestone explosion

Author: Joey Bunch - May 5, 2017 - Updated: July 31, 2017

North metro Denver Democrats introduced a bill in the Colorado House Friday to create maps of where underground oil-and-gas pipelines are located. Industry representative said that work is already under way, however.

Yes and no. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is working in what’s called a “notice to operators” process. But the kinds of documents and data points policymakers use and those local residents can understand are very different.

Reps. Mike Foote of Lafayette and Steve Lebsock of Thornton, the sponsors of the bill, made that case to the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Commission.

“Data doesn’t do any good if it’s somewhere where the public can’t get it,” Lebsock said.

Foote said it’s the legislature’s responsibility to make sure the commission provides transparency.

“We as a legislature need to step up and give some direction to the agency,” Foote said. “We do that all the time.”

House Bill 1372 would require oil-and-gas operators to provide the maps it has about its underground operations to the commission. The commission would build a database to show homebuyers or residents, along with local land planners, were lines are located.

It was inspired by the double fatal explosion as the result of line near a home in Firestone on April 17.

The legislation becoming law, however, is a long shot. For one, the legislature adjourns next Wednesday, and House Bill 1372 still has to pass at least six more votes — the House Appropriations Committee, two votes on the House floor, at least one committee vote in a Senate committee and then two more on the House floor.

That assumes oil-and-gas-friendly Senate Republicans won’t kill the pipelines bill in committee. They will. But even if they didn’t, the bill still would have to pass the upper chamber without any amendments, which is unlikely. Just one amendment would mean the House and Senate would have to negotiate a compromise then both chambers would have to pass it by midnight Wednesday.

The bill passed its first committee on a party-line vote Friday.

All that could possibly happen, but it also could possibly snow in Denver in mid-July, but it hasn’t happened since 1872.

“The timeline is very challenging,” Foote said after introducing the bill Friday morning. “But there’s really no way around it. We’re done on May 10, and we only found out on Tuesday what the problem was with Firestone.

“We’ve had constituents all around the Front Range area contacting all of us about their concerns with this problem, so we wanted to do what we could.”

As always with energy, House Bill 1372 is politically divisive. Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, said she won’t support it. The explosion was in her district. She told the Denver Post Democrats were trying to grandstand on a tragedy.

“My daughter goes to school within 1,000 feet of where the explosion occurred,” Saine told the Post’s Christopher N. Osher. “And I think she’s safe. This is an isolated incident. It had some human error. Doing this in the last four days of session without checking with anyone in the community is just politicizing a tragedy.”

Senate Republicans punted a Foote bill this session to move oil and gas operations back to 1,000 from a campus property line, instead of 1,000 feet from the main school building.

Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group, said operators want to do the right thing and he expressed sympathy for the families of those killed injured in the explosion.

He and Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, said they would prefer to work on the maps for the pipelines with the state Oil and Gas Commission rather than a piece of legislation they had not seen before Friday morning.

“We just started talking about this bill this morning,” Haley said. “We don’t have any malice toward this bill, or the sponsors, we’re just trying to work through this process in the best possible way.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.

One comment

  • seth richardson

    May 7, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    There are better ways to deal with the issue than “public maps” which are neither appropriate nor safe. Remember, oil and gas underground infrastructure is a matter of national security and revealing the exact location of such infrastructure would facilitate terrorist attacks…like the ones that happen in third-world countries where pipelines are attacked with some regularity.

    If you think a leak is bad, imagine the devastation of a terrorist tunneling down to a high-pressure gas main located near occupied structures and blowing it up.

    A ruptured gas main in California blew up more than 50 home in San Bruno, CA in 2010, and that was due to pipe corrosion, not a terrorist attack.

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