Colorado oil and gas operators could see tighter requirements around abandoning, testing and disclosing information for thousands of underground pipelines across the state after a public hearing in Greeley this week.
This is the second wave of proposed changes to state rules after a 2017 flowline leak caused a deadly home explosion in Firestone. The first were adopted shortly after the accident. They required more detailed reporting on what flowlines are made of and what they carry, among other changes.
In a statement ahead of this week’s hearing, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director Jeff Robbins said he was looking forward to the discussion.
“Over the past several months, our staff has heard from stakeholders and with that has drafted rules for the commission to take into consideration,” Robbins said.
The new set of rules addresses three main issues.
- Requiring location data for all “off-location” flowlines and crude oil transfer lines to be made public via the COGCC’s online map of the state’s oil and gas operations.
- Enabling COGCC staff to conduct inspections when an operator takes action to reactivate an inactive flowline or temporarily abandoned an oil and gas well.
- Changes the presumption that is in place when a flowline is abandoned. Currently abandoned flowlines are allowed to remain in place. The draft rules change that. So, when a flowline is abandoned it needs to be removed.
Advocates for tighter regulation of flowlines say making their information public could save lives. In her pre-written testimony, Erin Martinez, whose husband and brother-in-law were killed in the 2017 Firestone explosion, said she felt she had a responsibility to participate in the Greeley hearings.
“(My husband and brother-in-law) died due to gross negligence on the part of an oil and gas company, and I don’t want their deaths to have been in vain,” read the testimony, which was filed ahead of the hearing.
Martinez is scheduled to testify Thursday.
In pre-written testimony, oil and gas industry groups requested certain modifications be made. In its statement, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said it “largely supports” the rules, but certain aspects present “implementation challenges,” including making flowline information publicly available.
Putting them on a map for the public to read could invite environmental activists or other “bad actors” to wreak havoc on the pipelines, according to COGA’s statement.
“Disclosing very specific and detailed information regarding flowline and crude oil transfer line locations through a publicly available map could also embolden individuals and local governments to undertake excavation activity without consulting the 811 system,” the statement read. “This could have disastrous consequences.”
In turn, COGA suggested the COGCC make flowline location publicly available on a map, but blur out the image at a distance of 2,000 feet. The suggestion mirrors the federal government’s approach to pipeline mapping.
Members of the public can also comment on the draft rules. Public comment is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
The COGCC’s discussion and deliberation, which is also open to the public, will take place at the University of Northern Colorado’s University Ballroom starting Wednesday. A final vote is expected Thursday or Friday.