Gov. Hickenlooper proposes seven changes in oil and gas regulations to address explosion risks | PostIndependent.com

Gov. Hickenlooper proposes seven changes in oil and gas regulations to address explosion risks

Sharon Dunn
Greeley Tribune
Investigators stand by as debris is removed from a house that was destroyed in a deadly explosion in Firestone, on April 17.
Matthew Jonas / AP | The Daily Times Call

Governor’s proposals to improve Colorado oil and gas industry

» Strengthen the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s flowline regulations

» Enhance the 8-1-1 “one-call” program by adding oil and gas flowline information.

» Create a nonprofit orphan well fund to plug and abandon orphan wells and provide refunds for in-home methane monitors.

» Prohibit future domestic gas taps.

» Create a technical work group to improve safety training.

» Request peer-review of some COGCC rules

» Explore an ambient methane leak detection pilot program.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday recommended seven state policy changes affecting the oil and gas industry in response to the April explosion in Firestone that killed two people and injured another.

The explosion was the result of something the state has never seen, Hickenlooper said, in which a severed flowline, which had previously been abandoned by the oil and gas operator, was still attached to a well and seeped into French drains of a home 178 feet away, causing an explosion.

“What happened in Firestone … we’ve never seen before,” Hickenlooper said Tuesday in response to a question on whether proposed changes could ensure such an explosion would never happen again. “We’re spending millions of dollars to do everything we can to make sure it never happens again. This is about as close to never as you’re going to get.”

In response to the explosion, the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission ordered companies to locate, inspect and repair any damaged flowlines in the state. Some companies, such as Anadarko, went a step beyond and abandoned certain flowline practices that led to the explosion and shut off older wells permanently.

But since, there’s been concern on what happens next on a statewide level.

Hickenlooper, in a press conference at the state Capitol in Denver, proposed seven changes to existing practice, some of which will require simple rule-making, and others that would require legislation. He wants the changes to happen within the next year.

The suggestions involved everything from adding oil and gas flowlines to the existing 811 gas line location program in Colorado and creating a pilot methane leak detection program, to suggesting legislation to eliminate domestic taps directly into wells, increased line testing, and enhanced safety training.

One thing that wasn’t on tap in the governor’s plan was changing state rules when it comes to setbacks. At present, new oil and gas wells cannot be located within 500 feet of a residence, or within 1,000 feet of a multiple occupancy building, such as a school or a hospital.

There are no statewide rules for how close residences can be built to existing oil and gas wells. The home in Firestone was part of the Oak Meadows subdivision, which was built in the last two years, near an existing, and decades-old, oil and gas well.

Hickenlooper said changing the system would creep into taking away local control, which has been such a point of contention in the state for the last few years. But he wouldn’t rule out a an attempt at such a change in the Legislature.

“Most of the stakeholders felt the local authorities would do a better job … in designing those setbacks from existing well facilities,” Hickenlooper said. “That being said, I’d not be surprised if we hear from Republicans and Democrats, thinking there should be some state baseline. I’m not ruling that out.”

The bulk of Hickenlooper’s discussion Tuesday involved adding oil and gas flowlines to the existing 811 call line, which residents use to locate gas lines on their property before they dig.

“The COGCC is going to propose a rule to require oil and gas operators to be tier 1 811 members and provide information about flowlines and wells to 811,” Hickenlooper explained. “They will be required to identify any flowlines in an area in response to a line-locate call.”

Hickenlooper said the COGCC will work to make this transition “a seamless and reliable system to ensure we know where these flowlines are.”

“Last April and May, we didn’t have [information on] any of these on these flowlines. And that’s a recipe for a disaster, so 811 becomes a proper vehicle” to disseminate that, he said.

The line, however, isn’t necessarily set up to allow anyone to call about any property out of curiosity, or on properties they’re expecting to buy, for example, but Hickenlooper said that is worth looking into.

The information, however, also will not be warehoused online, Hickenlooper said in answers to questions. That is mostly because of concerns of people pirating gas from lines, or posing some sort of security risk.

“I think that’s a valid argument,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper also said he strongly supports a pilot program to support methane leaks.

“I think [that is] the next step forward we have to get looking at,” Hickenlooper said. “We need to have a pilot program here. At the same time we’re looking at the best practices from regulators around the country.”

The Weld County commissioners are exploring their own program to test homes for deadly gases, much like its free water testing program. Commissioner Chairwoman Julie Cozad, who discussed the idea of Weld creating its own program, said she and other commissioners will likely have a work session to discuss the changes, which on first blush all seem rational and worthy of their support.

“Most important to us as a county is our residents, and we are looking forward to participating in all the discussions that will probably be happening in the future that would be in regard to energy production with our county and state,” Cozad said.

Industry officials, including Al Walker, CEO of Anadarko, and Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, issued statements Tuesday vowing support and cooperation with policy makers on implementing the changes.


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