Oil and Gas Pipeline Plan Falls Short, Colorado Lawmakers Say

Rely on Occupational Safety & Health ReporterSM for full news coverage and documentation of federal and state workplace safety and health programs, standards, legislation,...

By Tripp Baltz

Colorado Democratic state lawmakers say Gov. John Hickenlooper’s (D) plan to address underground oil and gas flow lines won’t do enough to protect public health and safety, while industry officials maintain they will work with the governor on the proposed changes.

Hickenloooper’s plan—which he announced Aug. 22 following two recent fatal accidents involving oil and gas facilities—is a mix of legislative, regulatory, and voluntary measures. The plan includes requirements for identifying, inspecting and pressure-testing natural gas and oil flow lines, which connect wellheads to production facilities. The governor also asked for oil and gas operators to pay for the plugging of the 700 to 800 orphan wells in the state.

Hickenlooper said he believes the state should continue to enforce “abandonment” requirements which were initially included in a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission notice to operators May 1 after one explosion. The notice requires operators to verify that any existing flow line not in active use is abandoned under commission Rule 1103, including being cut off below grade and sealed.

However, the governor did not include among his proposals a mandate that energy companies provide publicly available maps of underground lines, nor a requirement that new homes be built a minimum distance away from existing oil and gas facilities, something that has been sought by many environmental groups and state lawmakers.

Sen. Matt Jones (D), in a statement provided to Bloomberg BNA Aug. 23, said the governor’s plan would prioritize “big corporations’ profits” over “people’s health and safety.” Drilling operations “have no business being near people’s homes, playgrounds, or schools, and the public has a right to know exactly where existing flow lines are.”

The governor’s proposed steps are “good steps but certainly not the end of the conversation,” Rep. KC Becker (D), majority leader in the Colorado House, said in a statement. More meaningful measures should be on the table, she said. “Public health and safety should be our No. 1 concern,” Becker said. “I hope we can make progress in that regard in the 2018 legislative session.” That session begins in January.

Industry Support

Hickenlooper made his proposal in response to two fatal accidents. In April, a home explosion in Firestone, Colo., left two people dead and another person critically injured, and a May explosion of an Anadarko Petroleum Corp. oil tank in Mead, Colo., killed a worker and injured three others. The Firestone incident was caused by a leaking 1-inch natural gas flow line from a well also owned by Anadarko.

Anadarko will continue to help implement “the measures that have been identified” by the state to date, Al Walker, Anadarko chair, president and CEO, said in an Aug. 22 statement.

“We welcome these proposals from the governor, as safety is our utmost priority,” Noble Energy said in an Aug. 22 statement. The inspections and safety examinations conducted under the notice to operators confirms “the high safety standards practiced by the industry,” Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in an Aug. 22 statement.

Noble Energy said in an Aug. 22 statement about Hickenlooper’s plan: “We welcome these proposals from the governor, as safety is our utmost priority.”

The inspections and safety examinations conducted under the notice to operators confirms “the high safety standards practiced by the industry,” Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in an Aug. 22 statement.

Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, said oil and gas producers are “committed to working with the governor and the state over the next several months as we work through these proposals, all the while continuing to deliver the energy that runs our state and our country with the highest possible standards and safety practices.”

Meanwhile, environmentalists echoed the concerns of legislators. “We hope that our leaders will do much more in the near future to ensure that communities are safe and our health and environment are protected from the dangers of oil and gas development,” Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, said in an Aug. 22 statement.

Seven Steps

The seven steps outlined by the governor are:

  •  strengthening flow line regulations;
  •  improving oilfield safety training;
  •  a peer review of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rules;
  •  remote detection of natural gas leaks;
  •  enhancing the 8-1-1 “Know What’s Below” program, a dial-in system for people to determine the location of a natural gas line before digging;
  •  creating an industry-supported fund to plug orphan wells; and
  •  offering rebates for in-home natural gas monitors and phasing out domestic taps.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tripp Baltz in Denver at abaltz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

For More Information

The web site for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which includes the Notice to Operators on flow lines, is at http://cogcc.state.co.us/#/homeThe governor's plan is at https://www.colorado.gov/governor/news/gov-hickenlooper-announces-state%E2%80%99s-response-following-review-oil-and-gas-operations

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Try Occupational Safety & Health Reporter℠