Colorado debates new gas line rules after fatal explosion

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission opens two days of hearings on regulations for installing, testing and shutting down flow lines
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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 Dan Elliot, Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — Energy companies, local governments and advocacy groups on Monday will debate proposed new rules for thousands of oil and gas pipelines in Colorado after a fatal explosion last year blamed on leaking gas.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission opens two days of hearings on regulations for installing, testing and shutting down flow lines, which carry oil, gas and wastewater from wells to tanks and other nearby equipment.

The rules are in response to an April 17 explosion in the town of Firestone that killed two people, injured a third and destroyed a house. Investigators said the explosion was caused by odorless, unrefined natural gas leaking from a severed flow line.

Investigators said the line was believed to be abandoned but was still connected to an operating well with the valve turned to the open position.
The flow line was severed about 10 feet (3 meters) from the house, and gas seeped into the home's basement, investigators said. The well and pipeline were in place several years before the house was built.

The new rules are a significant expansion of existing ones. A final version will be drawn up after this week's hearings. No date has been set for the commission's seven voting members to approve or disapprove of the rules.
Colorado has nearly 129,000 flow lines within about 1,000 feet (300 meters) of occupied buildings, according to energy company reports submitted to the state last year.

The presence of homes and schools near oil and gas operations is a contentious issue in the state, especially in the booming Front Range urban corridor — including Firestone — which overlaps with an oil and gas field.
A 22-page draft of the new regulations says flow lines that are permanently taken out of service must be disconnected, drained and sealed at both ends and any above-ground portion must be removed. The rules also allow energy companies to simply remove the lines.

The proposal also would require energy companies to provide information on the location of flow lines to the Call 811 program, which marks the site of underground utilities at a property owner's request. That's meant to help homeowners and construction companies avoid inadvertently severing a line.

The new rules revise or add requirements for designing, installing, testing and documenting flow lines.

Shortly after the explosion, some state officials argued that Colorado should compile a map of all flow lines in the state and make it available online. But Gov. John Hickenlooper decided against that in August, citing concerns about security and theft.

Instead, he said the state would require energy companies to participate in the Call 811 program, saying that would make location information available to anyone who needs it.

The new rules also are intended to close some gaps in pipeline regulation.
Commission staffers noted last week that one federal agency, three state agencies and some local governments have at least some say in pipelines, but a few types of pipelines and activities don't fall within any agency's jurisdiction.
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