After Firestone, rule changes likely
RIFLE — It’s been nearly four months since an abandoned oil and gas pipeline caused a home explosion in Firestone that killed two people, and while Colorado Oil and Gas Conversation Commission Director Matt Lepore praised the work operators have done since then, he said “this is not the final chapter.”
“It’s quite apparent that operators engaged a great many resources in terms of time and effort and dollars” to test pipelines for safety after the explosion, “but I don’t think the Notice to Operators and the work done over the past 90 days or so is the end of the story,” he said Thursday at the Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum.
Days after the Firestone explosion, Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered inspections and tests of all active and abandoned gas pipelines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings, and on May 2 a formal Notice to Operators was sent statewide.
Pipeline operators were required to take specific actions related to flowline management because the Firestone explosion was linked to an abandoned flowline. The flowline was an oil and gas return line connected to an active well, but severed from anything else. Methane gas seeped into home from the abandoned line.
At the forum, Lepore suggested that rule changes may come as a result of Firestone.
“I’ve been engaged since April 17 with the Department of Natural Resources and the governor’s office on some initiatives to respond to that incident,” he said.
He indicated that he expects an announcement in the next few weeks of “what we feel are appropriate follow-up measures.”
“One of those will be a re-examination of COGCC flowline rules, but I don’t think there are major revisions coming,” he said.
One rule COGCC is looking at is an exclusion for operators to pressure test on an annual basis lines that are low-pressure. He expects that exclusion to be eliminated.
Another rule he mentioned was that the requirement that abandoned flowline risers must be cut off below grade, created in 2001, will soon be retroactive.
As COGCC staff continues to comb through the inventory of more than 23,000 wells counted, Engineering Manager Stuart Ellsworth shared some of the results of the operators’ work so far. According to Ellsworth, COGCC inspected 14.6 percent of the wells, or 2,261 wells, and witnessed 423 flowlines tested. COGCC prioritized risers and locations within 1,000 feet of buildings.
“If you have unused pipe out of the ground it needs to be removed,” Ellsworth clarified at the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board meeting in Rifle later that evening.
In Garfield County there were 2,873 facilities within 1,000 feet of address points and more than 200 lines were abandoned.
Of the over 6,000 pressure tests recorded, three failed the integrity pressure test.
In total, 177 operators responded with a total of 462 reported failed pressure tests. Eighty-two percent of those lines were shut in for repair and replacement, and in 6 percent the operators did not clearly provide an action plan.
Ellsworth said that COGCC will prioritize to see that 6 percent resolved.