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Environment

Following Deadly Explosion, Colorado Updates Pipeline Rules

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Inside Energy

All nine members of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission have agreed to adopt tougher regulations for a small type of oil and gas pipeline called a flowline. They run through many communities along the Front Range, including Firestone, the site of a deadly home explosion last April that killed two men and left a third woman seriously burned.

An investigation concluded the explosion was caused by a flowline that had been leaking odorless gas into the basement.
 
During the public meetings leading up to the votemany Front Range residents called for the state to make a comprehensive, public flowline map available.
 
Matt Lepore, the commission's director, had said creating such a map would be tough; that the COGCC wouldn’t be able to manage such a large volume of incoming and fast-changing data. Moreover, it’s likely that the location of numerous old flowlines is simply unknown.
 
During the rule-making meeting Tuesday (Feb. 13, 2018), Commissioner Bill Hawkins asked if it would be feasible to map flowlines within 500 feet of homes.
 
What's really going to make a difference in terms of the safety of our public?” Hawkins asked.
 
Ultimately, the commission did not add a flowline map to its final considerations. Instead, under the new rules, oil and gas operators will have to send location data for flowlines to the state and to local governments. That is information that communities can use to plan for emergencies like pipeline incidents.

The rules also address:

  • More detailed reporting on what flowlines are made of and what they carry (i.e. oil, gas, water).
  • Requirements that operators join the state’s 8-1-1 ‘call before you dig’ program
  • More stringent pressure testing requirements, including getting rid of the exemption for low pressure lines
  • Requirement that operators submit layout drawing for its flowlines

The regulatory discussion leading up to the vote began last spring when Gov. Hickenlooper ordered a review of the state’s oil and gas regulations in the aftermath of the home explosion. Last August, he announced the state’s response: seven policy initiatives, one of which directed COGCC to strengthen its flowline regulations. The updated rules go into effect on May 1.