Colorado outlines new pipeline rules after fatal explosion

A fracking rig on Colorado's Front Range. (Kevin J. Beaty)

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By Dan Elliott, Associated Press

Colorado regulators made public a rough outline Wednesday for new rules for oil and gas pipelines after a fatal house explosion blamed on a natural gas leak.

The state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s outline calls for new standards for designing, testing and permanently shutting down flow lines, which carry oil or gas from wells to tanks and other gathering equipment.

The new rules would require oil and gas operators to provide information about flow lines to the existing Call 811 program, which marks the location of underground utilities at a property owner’s request.

After the Firestone explosion, Gov. John Hickenlooper and other state officials considered compiling a map of all flow lines and posting it online. Hickenlooper ruled that out last month, citing concerns about security and theft of oil and gas.

Hickenlooper said requiring energy companies to provide the information to the Call 811 program would make it readily available to people who need it.

The outline was dated Sept. 8 and posted online Wednesday.

The commission’s staff plans to complete draft rules by Oct. 15 after meetings with interested groups on Sept. 21 and 22. A formal public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 11 and 12, and the commission could vote on adopting the rules after that.

The rules are in response to an April explosion in the town of Firestone that killed two people and injured a third.

Investigators blamed the explosion on odorless, unrefined natural gas leaking from a flow line that was thought to be out of service but was still connected to a well with the valve turned to the open position.

The house that exploded was within 200 feet (60 meters) of the gas well, and the flow line was severed about 10 feet (3 meters) from the house, officials said. Investigators said gas seeped into the home’s basement.

The well and pipeline were in place several years before the house was built. The proximity of homes to wells and pipelines is a contentious issue in Colorado, where the booming Front Range urban corridor overlaps with an oil and gas field.