Having just turned back a Democratic attempt in the state House to make oil and gas producers map and disclose their underground gas lines statewide, Republicans on Tuesday watched as their own effort to tackle potential gas-line hazards was scuttled by Democrats in the same chamber.
Both parties have scrambled to address questions involving the flow lines after a devastating explosion April 17 killed two and injured a third at a home near a well in Firestone. Investigators have determined an old underground gas flow line had been cut about 10 feet from the house, and gas had seeped through the ground to the home’s basement, where it exploded.
The Democratic response, introduced in the House last week as House Bill 1372, would have established a searchable map of all such gas lines statewide, coordinated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The bill was derailed by the chamber’s minority Republicans in a late-night filibuster as they argued that oil and gas regulators already had ordered safety reviews of the state’s wells and gas lines and that property owners can learn more using geographic information system locator technology.
Meanwhile, ruling Republicans in the state Senate included a provision addressing the same issue in their wide-ranging bill restructuring the Colorado Energy Office. The sweeping Senate Bill 301, introduced late last month, in part required oil and gas operators to inspect the integrity of flowlines throughout the state. After the bill passed the Senate earlier this week and was introduced in the Democratic-run House, the provision was stripped out.
More tit for tat in the legislature’s closing days? It is the unofficial sport of the General Assembly, after all. Republicans are claiming that’s what happened to SB 301. In a press release from the Senate GOP, the bill’s sponsor lashed out:
“Less than 24 hours ago, Democrats were saying that something must be done to reassure the public about gas line safety, but today, apparently because this proposal was made by Republicans, they decide that it’s not, by removing this important provision from an energy bill,” said SB301 author Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction). “It’s appalling to see Democrats obstructing legislation that’s not just supported by the governor, but would have given communities around the state some additional peace of mind.”
The Republican press statement points out Gov. John Hickenlooper already had ordered the oil and gas commission to pressure-check all flow lines within 1,000 feet of any building regardless of when the line was installed or taken out of service, and Republicans say the provision in SB 301 would have written the governor’s order into statute. It would have required the commission to report to the state legislature every 30 days until pressure-checks and accompanying documentation were completed on all flow lines in Colorado.
As reported by the Associated Press this week, the Democratic governor, himself a onetime petroleum geologist, had seemed ambivalent about his own party’s prescription for flow-line mapping. He suggested improved well maps might be more practical if maintained by local governments rather than the state.
The AP account quoted the governor:
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to know where those lines are. I’m not compelled that it’s got to be the state that controls that,” Hickenlooper said.