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New Oil And Gas Pipeline Regs Coming To Colorado, But Don't Expect Any Maps

Leigh Paterson
After a deadly home explosion last year, the state is now updating its oil and gas regulations with a focus on a type of small pipeline called a flowline.

After a deadly home explosion in Firestone, Colo. last spring, the state is now updating its oil and gas regulations. At a public meeting on Jan. 8, several local officials and residents were focused on one item not on the table: mapping a type of small pipeline called a flowline.

“I’m glad you’re addressing pipelines after what happened in Firestone. I think you’re woefully inadequate though in that you’re not mapping all of these lines and then letting people know where they are. … So we need mapping and we need to remember who we work for,” said state Senator Matt Jones, R-Boulder. “We govern with the consent of the people out there. And do you not think that they don’t want to know where a pipeline might be by their house, especially after Firestone?”

Before the home explosion, most people hadn’t ever heard of a flowline. Now it is the focus of state-level rulemaking, as it was the type of pipeline responsible for the odorless gas that leaked into the basement of the home and then ignited.

Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, responded to the mapping question by saying the location data would be too much information for the commission to manage. He also noted that COGCC is gathering start points and end points for each line, rather than information on the actual shape of the lines. 

“We understand that these systems do change with some frequency, especially at the flowline level,” said Lepore. “So if an operator is putting something in, taking it out, moving it over here, that’s a lot of information for us to manage and to be under an obligation to manage appropriately, efficiently. … I understand the public desire (to know) before they buy a house, say, ‘How close is my house to any flowline?’ With flowlines, historically, that have been there for decades potentially, we’re probably never going to know all of that.”

Credit Leigh Patterson / KUNC
Matt Lepore, director of the COGCC, argues that maintaining an accurate flowline map would be too much data for the commission to handle.

The regulatory discussion formally began last spring when Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered a review of the state’s oil and gas regulations in the aftermath of the Firestone explosion. In August, he announced the state’s response: seven policy initiatives, one of which directed COGCC to strengthen its flowline regulations.

“At the time of the explosion, we committed to do all we could to ensure that what happened to the Martinez and Irwin families never happens again,” said Hickenlooper. “The actions we announced today are a responsible and appropriate response that places public safety first.”

The COGCC took up the flowline issue in September, came up with draft rules (PDF) and is now holding two days of public meetings.

The draft doesn’t contain any plans to map flowlines but it is dense and detailed, laying out changes that directly relate to the home explosion as well as measures that go beyond it. Here are some highlights:

  • Registration: Operators are required to register “Off-Location Flowlines” (flowlines that leave the well pad) by providing information like GPS location data, a “layout drawing” of the area and materials used in construction of the line. 
  • Digging: All operators must join Colorado’s One Call notification system, known as “Call Before You Dig,” and report new flowline locations within 30 days. 
  • Integrity Testing: Depending on where the line runs, operators will get to choose from a few different types of integrity tests, including an annual pressure test, continuous pressure monitoring, deploying a type of tech called a “smart pig” and an annual AVO (audio, visual, olfactory) inspection.
  • Abandonment: Flowlines no longer in use must be abandoned and cut near the surface or removed from the ground entirely. Companies will be required to notify regulators once this process is complete.

Several members of Colorado’s business community spoke largely in favor of the proposed flowline changes while noting how oil and gas contributes to the state’s economy.

Credit Leigh Patterson / KUNC
There were many empty seats at a public meeting on Monday, Jan. 8 where oil and gas regulations were on the table.

“I would like to unequivocally state that safety and smart regulations are critical and paramount to ongoing production. And the only reason I’m standing here today is that industry understands and accepts that responsibly,” said Jeff Wasden, president of the Colorado Business Roundtable.

There are a handful of additional changes to how the state regulates issues like methane leaks and old, orphan wells. Those will likely be taken care of at the agency level and possibly through legislation.

Our partners at Inside Energy put together this partial flowline map, showing start and end points of certain lines submitted by operators last year.

Regulators could vote on the draft rules as soon as Tuesday, Jan. 9.

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