Colorado toughens oil, gas rule to try to prevent future Firestone disaster

State regulators of the oil and gas industry on Tuesday set tougher rules and launched a task force after six months of grappling over how to protect people and the environment from myriad underground pipelines, which regularly leak and explode, as fossil fuels extraction expands around Front Range cities.

But the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulators wrestled for hours with a looming challenge in their push for closer inspections to increase safety: “How do we know if we are in the right place to detect leaks if we don’t know where the lines are?” Commissioner Ashley Ager said in an all-day hearing.

Industry officials have testified that they do not know the locations of hundreds of miles of existing pipelines, particularly what they call “upstream” lines near wells not regulated by the federal government. They say mapping all existing lines could be costly. PDC Energy production manager Brian Murray told commissioners older pipelines that do not contain steel and abandoned wells plugged with cement would complicate mapping. Many pipelines are essentially “impossible to go and find,” Murray said, noting PDC runs 2,600 wells. “We do not have any geospatial information on any of our lines,” Murray said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper responded to last year’s fatal Firestone house explosion by ordering companies to find and test all pipelines within 1,000 feet of homes — prompting companies to send start-point and end-point data, but no maps showing where pipelines run. On Tuesday, Hickenlooper issued a statement after the nine COGCC commissioners voted unanimously for a revised set of rules. “We believe these new rules are another important step in the aftermath of the Firestone tragedy.”

Under Colorado’s updated rules, companies must inform COGCC regulators where pipelines installed after May will be. They’ll have to provide information on old lines they know about by May 2019 and, if they learn more in the future, let state regulators know using forms that are posted on a website. Major leaks must be reported within 24 hours.

A new task force will explore, over the next year, inspection technology that companies may be required to use to detect leaks and locate existing pipelines. Industry attorneys insisted on pushing the controversial inspection methods matter to a “stakeholders” process.

This COGCC rule-making marks state regulators’ latest effort to manage an intensifying oil and gas boom concentrated along Colorado’s heavily populated Front Range. An industry shift toward large multi-well pads with horizontal boreholes …read more

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