Colorado regulators propose new oil and gas pipeline rules, but critics call for more
The new rules would do away with an exemption allowing energy producers to avoid pressure-testing or monitoring their low-pressure pipelines, as is required for the rest of their pipeline inventory.
The proposal also would require the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates oil and gas producers in the state, to track and alert local governments when operators abandon pipelines.
Local officials and neighborhood groups have pushed for a public statewide pipeline map, which the rules do not address. One leader of a neighborhood coalition said she would continue pushing for such a proposal along with further changes.
Public hearings will be held on the proposed rules on Dec. 11 and 12. Then the commission will decide whether to approve the package of rule changes. The new rules address flow lines, which carry oil, gas and wastewater from wells to tanks and other gathering equipment.
The 14-page draft of the new rules requires operators to purge drain lines when they permanently take them out of service. Those lines also must be disconnected and sealed at both ends, and any above-ground portion must be removed, according to the proposed changes. Operators also would have the option to remove the line. Lines that remain in service must be pressure-tested annually or be subject to a monitoring program, under the proposal.
The issue of oil and gas facilities near residential areas has stoked controversy throughout the Front Range, where housing construction is booming in a major oil and gas field.
Industry representatives said little about the proposed changes, which also would require energy companies to provide information on the location of flow lines to Call 811. The program marks underground piping for developers and property owners when requested.
Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, said her organization still was reviewing the proposal.
In a prepared statement, Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said: “As the state once again initiates a rule making on our industry, COGA remains committed to participating in the discussion. We hope our local government partners also contribute to the dialogue, as robust regulatory oversight of the oil and gas industry is most appropriate at the state level. We hope this rule making clarifies the processes around flowline integrity, while accounting for the diversity of our members’ operations across the state of Colorado.”
The leader of a coalition of groups pushing for broader regulations said she was disappointed that the proposed rules did not do more to address other issues regarding oil and gas facilities near residential areas and school grounds.
“If the governor really wanted to protect public health and safety, we need to broaden the scope of this rule making or we need to put together additional rule making,” said Sara Loflin, executive director of the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans, a coalition of neighborhood groups that formed early last year.
Loflin said the state needs to create a public map of oil and gas pipelines that the public can access. Gov. John Hickenlooper, citing the concerns of industry officials, has said such a map could make oil and gas lines vulnerable to people who want to illegally siphon off gas. Industry officials have resisted such a public map, and a proposal from Democratic lawmakers to require the COGCC to create such a map failed to make it out of the legislature earlier this year.
Loflin also has said the COGCC needs to place further restrictions on the development of oil and gas wells near schools. While state regulations place restrictions on placing wells within 1,000 feet of a school building, construction of those wells still can occur close to school property lines,which are located well past the actual perimeter of the main building, she stressed.
Loflin noted that in 2013, the commission sparked controversy when it approved a site with 12 wells and 32 tanks within 400 feet of a track and football field outside Northridge High School. In September, a high-pressured gas leak forced the evacuation of a stadium at the school during a football game.
Boulder County officials have urged the commission to go further. In a recent letter to the COGCC, Kimberly Sanchez, chief planner for Boulder County, and Kate Burke, assistant Boulder county attorney, said the state should maintain a map of flow lines, and that mapping was “glaringly absent from the proposed scope” of the new rules.
The rule change proposal is in response to a deadly home explosion in Firestone in April that killed two people. Investigators have blamed the explosion on a severed gas pipeline that leaked deadly odorless, unrefined gas.
The pipeline was believed to be abandoned, but it still was connected to an operating well with a valve in an open position. The pipeline had been in place several years before the construction of the home. Investigators have said the pipeline leaked the gas from a point 6 feet from the southeast corner of the house that eventually exploded. The leaking gas saturated the soil and migrated into the home through its French drains, according to the investigators.