Colorado officials on Friday indicated that proposed rules for the oil and natural gas industry are coming, with some as early as this week.
The director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), Matt Lepore, said in a radio interview that Gov. John Hickenlooper's staff is focused on revamping rules in the aftermath of a Firestone flowline explosion in April that killed two residents.
"I think we've probably identified a couple of changes to those flowline rules, and we will seek to maybe increase the staffing” at COGCC, he said.
Hickenlooper's office confirmed to NGI's Shale Daily that an announcement on the issue is likely very soon.
COGCC likely will ask the legislature for additional oversight of about 124,000 flowlines connected to 22,000-23,000 wells statewide, Lepore said. There have been growing concerns about well proximity to neighborhoods, a primary focus for the past few years.
"We have adopted lots of rules over the last five years to try to address a classic land-use conflict, but we're certainly not at the endpoint.” Local government, he said, has a legitimate role to play with oil and gas operators.
"One of the things we've promoted for local governments is long-range planning with operators," Lepore said. "When a developer comes in and says, 'This would be a nice place for a subdivision, and I want to build 600 homes here,’ local governments have got to be aware that there is a mineral estate underneath the ground that likely is severed from the surface, that somebody is going to come along one day wanting to develop those resources."
The flowline tragedy heightened the debate regarding the frequency of oil and gas incidences, the intensity of industry oversight and the long-simmering issue about local control.
Hickenlooper ordered a statewide review of oil and gas operations after a preliminary investigation of the Firestone incident determined it was linked to an abandoned and severed unrefined natural gas flowline in Weld County. The abandoned line, which ran about 170 feet from a nearby Anadarko Petroleum Corp. well to the home's foundation, had not been capped.
From 2006-2015, Colorado experienced 116 fires and explosions at oil and gas operations, according to a recent study by the Energy Research and Social Sciences unit at the University of Colorado's School of Public Health. Incidents annually occurred at about 0.03% of active well, or one fire or explosion a year for every 3,690 active wells.
"The rate of these incidents per number of active wells in Colorado is significantly lower than in Utah (0.07% of active wells)," according to the study. Colorado has a voluntary reporting system for incidences, unlike other states, including Utah, which has mandatory reporting.
The main causes of the recorded incidents in the COGCC database were equipment failure (20%), lightning strikes (14%), and operator error (9%). For 42% of the cases, the cause was unclear, unspecified or under investigation.