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Colorado Governor Addresses Orphan Well Safety in Wake of 2017 Home Explosion

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday signed an executive order to address safety concerns surrounding 260 orphan wells and 360 orphan sites, a direct result of the review ordered last year following a flowline explosion that killed two people in Firestone, CO.

Last year's tragedy "compels us to improve the safety of Colorado's oil and natural gas industry," Hickenlooper said. The order sends a "strong statement of unity" following the home explosion in April 2017.

In last year's incident, an abandoned line, which ran about 170 feet from a nearby Anadarko Petroleum Corp. well to the foundation of the home in Firestone, ignited, killing Mark Joseph Martinez, 42, and his brother-in-law, Joseph William Irwin III, also 42. Martinez's wife Erin Martinez was critically injured, while her son, 11 at the time, was treated and released.

In response, Anadarko temporarily shut in 3,000 oil and gas wells to test the lines, and other operators followed suit.

Hickenlooper followed with a series of regulatory proposals. Lawmakers in February approved what some consider to be the most comprehensive rules addressing oil and gas flowlines/infrastructure in the nation. In April, lawmakers also passed a bill to deal with orphan well cleanups.

The new executive order reduces to zero the backlog of high- and medium-priority orphaned wells and orphaned sites; engages the oil and gas industry in plugging, remediation and reclamation; and provides funding to establish financial assurance that prevents future orphaned wells and sites.

A list of all the known sites is to be made public by Aug. 1 and updated annually by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

The executive order "will accelerate our ongoing work to properly plug and safeguard orphaned wells," said COGCC Director Julie Murphy. "This approach is designed to address the issue comprehensively through effective prevention of future orphaned locations."

The energy industry supported Hickenlooper's action.

"The order directs the COGCC to use the money it already collects from oil and gas taxes to plug and reclaim these wells, which makes a great deal of sense," said Colorado Oil and Gas Association CEO Dan Haley.

Colorado Petroleum Council (CPC) Executive Director Tracee Bentley said Hickenlooper had worked with the industry "to enact long-term solutions to this and any such issues facing our state."

However, Environmental Defense Fund’s Dan Grossman, national director of state programs, said while he was encouraged by the action, it does not go far enough. "Leaks and catastrophic blowouts can result from poorly constructed and maintained oil and gas wells,” he said.

 

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