As a first in a series of steps required under state Senate Bill 181, Colorado regulators on Thursday adopted protective flowline rules for mapping and abandoning flowlines linked to more than 16,000 oil and gas wells.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is required under the legislation to address four separate areas, with flowlines categorized as the most critical.
"This new rulemaking further strengthens the state's oversight of flowlines and operators returning inactive wells to production or injection within the state," said spokesperson Megan Castle.
The rules create for the first time a map of the actual paths of all flowlines in the state. They also ensure that the lines transferring oil, natural gas, condensate or produced water to processing sites be abandoned "in a manner that is least impactful."
COGCC Director Jeff Robbins said the commission worked collaboratively with environmental, industry, local government, homeowners and other stakeholders in formulating the rules, which followed a fatal explosion two years ago at a Firestone, CO, home in Weld County.
Energy industry groups in Colorado were generally supportive.
Colorado Oil and Gas Association CEO Dan Haley said in many cases flowlines may be safely abandoned in place when their removal carries serious negative impacts. "That includes tearing up the ground of neighborhoods, farm lands and wildlife areas, while also generating unnecessary emissions and putting workers' at risk.”
The oil and gas industry will remove lines to protect public health, safety and the environment, Haley said, "unless in specific circumstances it is more protective to leave them in the ground." He urged the COGCC to continue to work with the energy industry and its technical experts to implement mapping, inspection and local coordination requirements.
Colorado Petroleum Council Executive Director Lynn Granger said the state’s “natural gas and oil industry is largely supportive of the new regulations. However, we continue to have concerns with respect to the scale and specificity of a publicly available map, both for security and safety reasons.
“While we fully support the public’s desire to know the general locations of flowlines, we worry that such mapping could be used as a substitute for the ‘Call Before You Dig’ 811 Program, which could present significant safety concerns. We similarly worry that such detailed mapping could invite vandalism and pursuant risks to public safety.”
Flowline removal should not "take precedence over safe abandonment,” Granger said. However, the industry recognizes the COGCC is working “to allow for exceptions to removal in many scenarios in these rules and appreciate those changes. We will continue to advocate for safe abandonment of flowlines in place whenever we believe it to be the most appropriate solution."