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CO Officials Call for Pipeline Inspections

Thursday, May 11, 2017

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Weeks after a damaged natural gas flowline caused a fatal house explosion in Colorado, officials are responding with directives to inspect pipelines near residential areas and publicize the results.

The April 17 explosion that killed two residents in Firestone was caused by unrefined natural gas leaking from a flowline that was thought to be abandoned and hadn’t been properly capped.

The well that the line was attached to, reportedly located less than 200 feet from the house, was put back into service earlier this year. The pipeline, thought to have been damaged at some point by residential construction, began to leak the odorless gas.

Now, lawmakers and officials at the state and local level are taking action to ensure that flowlines are inspected for safety and that residents know where they are. But they face challenges, including the fact that, as the Associated Press reported Monday (May 8), Colorado only employs three people to inspect pipelines running from more than 54,000 wells in the state.

Inspections Ordered

On May 2, Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered oil and gas companies in the state to inspect and pressure-test all oil and gas flowlines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings, and ensure that any lines not in use are properly marked and capped. He also called for the companies to ensure that all abandoned lines are cut below the surface and sealed.

The order came with two sets of deadlines: 30 days for the inspection of pipelines near buildings and of lines that are abandoned or not in use, and 60 days for pressure testing lines near buildings and executing proper abandoning procedures on those pipelines no longer in use.

The Denver Post reports that until last year, there was no state system in place to monitor flowlines from wells. Prior to that, the state relied on self-reporting by companies running production facilities.

Companies Shut Down Wells

In late April, while the cause of the Firestone explosion was still under investigation, well owner Andarko Petroleum decided to temporarily shut down 3,000 older vertical natural-gas wells across the northeastern part of the state. Days later, Great Western Oil and Gas said it had identified 61 flowlines within about 250 feet of occupied buildings, and was shutting down the wells associated with those lines until the pipelines could be confirmed to be safe.

Municipal Action

Officials in Longmont, a city just northeast of Firestone, announced last week that they would be taking action to evaluate the safety of wells and flowlines within the city limits. According to the Reporter-Herald, that amounts to 17 wells, along with the attendant pipelines.

And the commissioners in Boulder County called on all oil and gas operators in that jurisdiction to “identify the location of their active and inactive pipelines and provide that information to the County,” and “take steps to guarantee the safety of these pipelines for all county residents.”

Both Longmont and Boulder County have been engaged in battles with the oil and gas industry in recent years, instituting bans on hydraulic fracturing and, in the county’s case, a moratorium on all new oil and gas development, which expired at the beginning of this month.

Mapping Bill Blocked

Last week, two Democratic representatives introduced a bill that would have required oil and gas companies to give the government notice of the location of all flowlines, gathering pipelines and transmission pipelines. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, which oversees the industry, would then post the information on a searchable database on its website.

The bill passed the House Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs on a 6-3 vote but was blocked through a filibuster by Republicans late Monday; the legislation would have had to pass Monday before midnight in order to make it to the governor’s desk before the General Assembly adjourns this week.

While state House Democrats argued that the online map would increase safety, Republicans held that the rule wouldn’t improve safety at all and would simply increase regulatory burdens.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat and onetime petroleum-industry geologist, reportedly supports the idea of mapping pipelines but has said that it could be left to county or local authorities if state legislators wouldn’t approve it.

Before the explosion happened, three House Democrats had introduced a bill seeking to clarify that new oil and gas production facilities must be located at least 1,000 feet from school property lines. That legislation passed the House but was postponed in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy.

Flowline Corrosion Report

Earlier in April, more than a week before the Firestone blast, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported on an audit performed for the Oil and Gas Commission that found that about half of spills in oil and gas flowlines in the state stem from corrosion.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Corrosion; Environmental Protection; Health and safety; Oil and Gas; Pipeline

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