State oil and gas regulators adopted new safety rules on Thursday requiring the locations of thousands of underground oil and gas pipelines across Colorado to be published online for the public to see.
The move, regulators say, will help inform residents of industrial operations near their homes and prevent future accidents involving oil and gas equipment.
Jeff Robbins, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which approved the rules, said the public will have access to a full map with “actual information” about the state’s vast flowline network for the first time.
“The rules are a positive step forward in line with our mission to regulate in a manner that’s protective,” Robbins said. “I believe the COGCC did a fantastic job with this.”
Robbins added that mapping will begin “immediately.” Older lines may take longer — up to a year — to be fully mapped, he said.
Flowlines are common underground pipes that connect oil and gas wells to storage tanks and other industrial equipment. Thousands of them are buried near roadways, homes and other occupied buildings in communities across the state.
The new rules are the second wave of regulatory changes stemming from a home explosion in the town of Firestone in 2017. The accident killed two people and injured several more. It was later traced back to a leaky flowline buried in the house’s backyard.
Erin Martinez, a survivor of the 2017 home explosion in Firestone, testified in favor of the new rules. In a statement following the vote, she thanked the commission.
“Looking forward, the key to ensuring success will be making sure that the COGCC has adequate resources dedicated to implementation, inspection and verification,” she said. “I look forward to working with the agency to ensure it has the staff it needs.”
The changes passed Thursday also include tougher protocols for abandoning and reactivating flowlines. Operators must now completely remove most pipes from the ground after they’re abandoned.
Oil and gas companies will have to start complying with the COGCC’s new rules in early 2020.
“It’s another heavy lift,” said Lynn Granger, director of the Colorado chapter of the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group.
Under the changes, operators will need to hire independent engineers to inspect their flowlines and report back to the state. The new “third-party” requirement, according to the COGCC, will help prevent equipment from slipping through the cracks.
“Any time we can do that — it’s a good thing,” Granger said.
Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said in a statement he was comfortable with many of the new regulations, but did have concerns.
“Flowlines can be abandoned in place safely, and their removal can sometimes have serious negative impacts,” he said. “That includes potentially tearing up the ground of neighborhoods and wildlife areas while also generation unnecessary emissions and putting workers’ safety at risk.”
The COGCC’s flowline safety regulations are the first in a series of changes required under Senate Bill 181. The new state law directs the agency, which oversees all oil and gas permitting and rulemaking, to protect public health and safety ahead of fostering the industry.