Active, abandoned pipelines inspected after Firestone blast

Alex Zorn

In the wake of the Firestone home explosion that killed two people in April, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is taking steps to prevent more such incidents.

Days after the explosion, Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered inspections and tests of all active and abandoned gas pipelines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings. The deadline to complete Phase I of the work was May 30.

“In essence the bulk of what we’re trying to do with the NTO [Hickenlooper’s notice to operators] is request operators go and inspect and inventory all of their facilities within 1,000 feet of building units,” COGCC Engineer Stuart Ellsworth explained at the May Energy Advisory Board meeting, which was Thursday in Rifle.

He said that the inspections are broken into two phases: Phase I being the inspection and inventory of all lines and Phase II being the testing of all the lines.

“COGCC has received 129 reports from operators, this is beyond the 116 expected, but the additional figure is likely due to operators who sent iterative reports, or corrected reports,” COGCC spokesman Todd Hartman wrote in an email sent to reporters Friday.

As part of Phase I, operators were required to reinspect any existing flowlines and pipelines located within 1,000 feet of a building unit, along with other work.

The full NTO can be found on the COGCC website.

Each operator was told to provide GPS location of all flowline risers (pipes rising vertically above ground) within 1,000 feet of an occupied building. A small pipeline that was abandoned and never properly disconnected is believed to be the cause of the Firestone explosion.

Phase I also required all operators to verify that any existing flowline or pipeline, regardless of when it was installed or taken out of service, is abandoned. Furthermore, operators were told to clearly mark any existing flowline or pipeline riser not in operation using fluorescent paint, remove all operating valves, and cap them until they can be cut off below grade and sealed.

Phase II requires operators to ensure and document that all flowlines within 1,000 feet of a building unit have integrity. Operators must also complete abandonment of any flowline or pipeline not actively operated, regardless of distance to a building unit and regardless of when it was installed or taken out of service. The deadline for Phase II to be completed is June 30.

At May’s EAB meeting, local COGCC liaison Marc Morton said there may be rule-making that occurs as a result of the Firestone explosion, though currently nothing is planned.

“We want to make sure this is the only event like this to occur,” he said.

Of the 129 reports the COGCC received, Hartman said that 80 of those reports have been processed with agency personnel reviewing and organizing the data within a larger set.

The reports processed to date include flowlines associated with 16,514 wells and Hartman said it will take time for the COGCC to cross-reference all the locations.

“At this initial stage, the COGCC believes that industry is taking compliance with the order seriously,” Hartman wrote. “It will take further review, however, to develop firmer details about overall compliance.”

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