Colorado oil and gas regulators on Monday began refining their rules for underground pipelines, spurred by a fatal house blast in Firestone in April and mindful that booming development driven by population growth is on a collision course with fossil fuels extraction.
They propose requiring that companies to cut off old underground lines connected to oil and gas wells, test all active lines for pressure changes that could help detect leaks, and reveal more of the fires and explosions that happen along underground lines.
But the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission members immediately faced flak from residents and local governments that their proposed refined rules, drafted by staffers, appear feeble.
At the very least, a coalition of Front Range communities contends, state regulators must require companies to submit maps that could be made public showing locations of underground lines. Local government officials also say they want the ability to have abandoned oil and gas lines removed.
There is no way to navigate Gov John Hickenlooper’s challenge of ensuring safety and environmental protection while moving oil and gas beneath people, in the middle of a building boom, the coalition of local governments contends, without having regulators and local partners able to know what is buried underground.
“These facilities have potential for dangerous failures if they are not handled correctly, but neither local governments nor Colorado residents can determine where they lie or if they have been constructed, tested and abandoned to the highest standards,” assistant Boulder County Attorney Kate Burke said. “This causes uncertainty, prevents the kind of land use and emergency planning that local governments conduct for other hazards and makes it difficult or impossible for local governments, landowners and developers to ensure that they are building safely.”
The hearing is scheduled for two days — held at the University of Colorado in Denver. It’s the latest of multiple rule-making hearings conducted in recent years that have given Colorado lengthy documents governing expansion of the oil and gas industry.
Yet conflict has intensified, especially over the issue of underground lines that have proved deadly.
The Firestone explosion, which killed two people, alled into question public safety and environmental protection amid the expansion of oil and gas operations near people. Hickenlooper said Colorado officials would do everything possible to make sure such a disaster never happens again.
This is a developing story that will be updated.