Plug this hole in regs

The discovery that thousands of gallons of natural gas liquids leaked into the Parachute Creek watershed has raised questions that go beyond the actions of Williams, the company involved.

Perhaps of equal importance is what regulations need to be put in place to help prevent such a spill from happening again.

The leak has exposed a seeming gap in government oversight over the pipeline containing the gauge from which the liquids leaked. It also comes at a time of increasing concern about a lack of oversight of pipelines by state and federal government.

Improving that oversight, preferably by the state, is in the best interest of oil and gas companies when all of their activities are under increasing public scrutiny. Doing nothing until another, bigger and more devastaing leak occurs may result in far more burdensome regulations.

It was disturbing to hear Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission environmental manager Jim Milne acknowledge recently that he can’t say who writes rules for pipeline integrity for the kind of line that leaked.“I think the agencies have all been looking at that question,” was all he could offer.

Milne and Williams both have pointed to a role played by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding the line running from Williams’ gas plant on one side of Parachute Creek to tanks on the other side. But OSHA has made clear its regulations focus only on worker safety considerations, and it has no oversight over things such as pipeline materials that should be used.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration does address things like pipeline design and leak prevention. But Williams says that agency regulates a pipeline leaving the tanks, and not the line going beneath the creek. As a post-processing-plant line, it also doesn’t come under oil and gas commission oversight.

The Williams situation might be somewhat unique, but it reveals a regulatory gap nonetheless. It’s made all the more important by the fact that a creek crossing is involved, and that Williams plans to not only resume use of the pipeline, but also to install a larger-diameter liquids line in the same corridor for a gas-plant expansion, once local drilling activity warrants it.

Meanwhile, regulatory questions surround another class of conduits called gathering lines, which ship oil and gas from wells to processing facilities. PHMSA regulates only about 10 percent of gas-and-oil gathering lines nationwide. Its rules apply only in higher-population areas, and for liquids lines, in certain areas such as environmentally sensitive ones.

Under an agreement with PHMSA, Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission regulates gas gathering lines but not liquids ones, and addresses just a few, minimal safety considerations such as reporting of spills.

Notably, with oil and gas development growing, and the diameter and pressure of many gas-gathering lines increasing, PHMSA is considering closing the loophole in its regulations.

For all the efforts to update oil and gas rules in Colorado over the years, pipelines have received little attention. COGCC Director Matt Lepore has indicated he expects the topic to get a fresh look due to the Williams leak. The public deserves that, and it should include discussions among agencies to rectify jurisdictional issues that have helped produce regulatory gaps.


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Wow, something good came of the Parachute spill. There are actual calls for regulation coming from the Sentinel! Amazing.

I had proposed to Dennis Webb that the Colorado Dept. of Labor had jurisdiction over the tanks and interconnecting pipelines by following the lead of their jurisdiction over Boilers and Pressure Vessels. The associated pipelines are usually under the rules of the pressure vessels when they are connected. This led to:
Mr. Webb related, in follow-up, they had informed him that their jurisdiction was to “commercial” handlers of petroleum products. Buried in Sect. 3-1 (b) (5 )or (11). liquid petroleum gases and separation could be a disclaimer of tanks under jurisdiction or by deferring the tanks to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation below (see highlight of on liquid pipelines) as part of their system.

The Colorado Pipeline Association (CoPA) is comprised of pipeline operators in Colorado that are dedicated to promoting pipeline safety by providing information for excavators, state residents, businesses, emergency responders and public officials.

The Colorado Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) Pipeline Safety Group inspects, regulates and enforces intrastate gas pipeline safety requirements. The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), within the U. S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) inspects, regulates and enforces interstate gas pipeline safety requirements and both interstate and intrastate liquid pipeline safety requirements.

I disagree with CDoL, as, if the vessels and a connecting lines are not under their Div. of Oil and Public Safety, it is under their Boiler and Pressure Vessel Section with pressure vessels and connecting lines. However, if each State agency disclaimers are valid or they refuse accepting jurisdiction, then the U.S.D.O.T. would have jurisdiction by that State refusal to accept code enforcement by either PUC or CDoL as local regulatory agencies. If U.S.D.O.T. has a jurisdictional interest, then they too can fine for failures that result in spills and they have rules and safety regulations for construction, maintenance, and operation of these systems. Now CDPHE, has Hazardous Waste Clean-up, either U.S.D.O.T. or a State agency should have safety requirements for the systems, and if these are not as should be, they should also have penalty for breaches. CDPHE should fine to recover cost of supervising clean-up, and, punitive if cause is relative to violations of other agency requirements of safety.

In this post I would address that I do not believe Williams has a valid claim that the regulations do not apply to its’ line crossing the creek. There are most likely gathering tank/pipe and pump(s) in the plant. This is because it is necessary to keep the volatiles in a liquid stage after cold separation and to provide head to the next storage tanks. Although there are special requirements for creek crossings, it does not exclude that transport line from plant to storage tanks from jurisdiction. Wherein, storage away from plant can be a safety feature, the pipelines are all still transport lines subject to the requirements of pipeline safety. This appears to me as an attempt to “loophole” a transferring pipeline and I would say, if this line sent the liquids to tanks in Rifle or Rangeley or Grand Junction it would be clearly regulated by PHMSA and the only difference would be the pump size in the plant and the line length to the tanks.

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