In response to the fatal Firestone home explosion, Colorado lawmakers want a gas-well map

Two House Democrats have proposed a bill to force energy drillers to provide state regulators the locations of all their gas lines.
3 min. read
BEST1 Workers from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission assist in the investigation on Friday into a fire that killed two people and injured two others in Firestone. Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer April 28, 2017

By Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press

Colorado lawmakers are considering the nation's first statewide gas well map requirement in response to a deadly home explosion traced to an inactive line.

The proposal would force energy drillers to provide state regulators the locations of all their gas lines, a national first. A Democratic House committee approved the idea 6-3 Friday.

The measure is inspired by a home explosion that killed two people last month in Firestone, a small town in northern Colorado. The April 17 blast was traced to gas seeping from an old severed underground pipeline, called a flow line.

The well was drilled in 1993. State records show it was shut down all of last year and resumed production in January, although the records do not show the reasons.

"This transparency has never been more urgent. We simply cannot go on this way," said Sophia Guerrero-Murphy of Conservation Colorado, an environmental group that supports the bill.

But the measure faces long odds of becoming law.

First, Colorado oil-and-gas regulators have already ordered safety reviews of the state's 54,000 wells, with additional testing over the next two months. And the bill doesn't address old well lines whose owners are out of business.

Colorado has a Democratic House and a Republican Senate, making bipartisan agreement crucial for any measure. That bipartisan agreement seemed elusive Friday, with some Republicans calling the proposal a knee-jerk reaction that won't improve well safety.

"This is about politics. It's not about safety," said Republican Rep. Lori Saine, who is from Firestone.

The state Legislature has just three working days left — the minimum amount of time that a bill can pass and head to the governor's desk. And Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former geologist, told reporters Wednesday that improved well maps are important but may be better kept by county and local authorities, not state regulators.

"I don't think it's unreasonable to want to know where those lines are. I'm not compelled that it's got to be the state that controls that," Hickenlooper said.

A representative of the administration testified Friday that the state agency overseeing drilling regulators is neutral on the bill.

Supporters insisted the state shouldn't wait for regulators' safety checks to demand comprehensive mapping.

"People have no way of knowing what's going on, what's near their homes. ... I think that's important," said Democratic Rep. Adrienne Benavidez.

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