Guv calls
 for rules
 change on fuel wells

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper

Gov. John Hickenlooper wants the state to make some changes when it comes to abandoned wells and the flowlines that extend out of them.

Responding to April’s explosion of a home near Firestone that killed two people, Hickenlooper on Tuesday called for some regulatory changes that deal with flowlines from existing and abandoned wells. He also wants to expand the state’s 811 call line to include flowlines. That service helps property owners locate utility lines.

The governor’s seven-point proposal also includes calling on the Colorado Legislature to create a nonprofit orphan well fund, which would be used to help pay for sealing abandoned wells and offering refunds for homeowners who want methane monitors.

Immediately following the explosion in April, which killed Firestone residents Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin, the governor ordered that all flowlines from existing or abandoned wells be inspected. Some lawmakers tried to pass a bill requiring those lines to be mapped, something the oil and gas industry opposed, but the measure never got out of the Colorado House where it was introduced.

An investigation into the explosion found an old flowline from a previously abandoned well that was reactivated, causing methane gas to seep into a nearby home that was built long after the well was in place.

The governor later convened several experts to study what else could be done, which culminated in Tuesday’s proposals.

“At the time of the explosion, we committed to do all we could to ensure that what happened to the Martinez and Irwin families never happens again,” Hickenlooper said. “The actions we announce are a responsible and appropriate response that places safety first.”

The industry’s response was tepid at best. While the two main groups that represent the industry didn’t object to any specific part of Hickenlooper’s plan, they said that their members already have done much to address safety concerns.

“We are committed to working with the governor and the state over the next several months as we work through these proposals,” said Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council.

“Colorado’s oil and gas industry just completed rigorous safety examinations and a reporting process in full cooperation with the COGCC following the tragedy in Firestone,” added Dan Haley, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “While the results confirm the high safety standards practiced by the industry, we’ve also engaged in several conversations with a number of stakeholders over the past few months, including state legislators on both sides of the aisle and the governor.”

Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne said Hickenlooper’s plan won’t include some of the more controversial issues such as increasing setback rules between wells and structures.

The proposals also don’t call for making public any map that shows the location of all flowlines in the state. 

Also proposed is a call for banning future taps directly from wells to residences, something that drillers routinely do in rural areas as a way of compensating property owners for having a well on their land.

The problem with such taps is that the gas is not odorized, as natural gas normally is to residential lines. That odor, which smells like rotten eggs, is added because natural gas has no odor, making leaks hard to detect.  The final proposal calls for exploring the idea of an ambient methane leak detection pilot program.

“That would look at other technologies that can detect leaks,” Lynne said.

“The governor and I were down in Durango a couple of months ago with BP. They have a flyover program where they can actually, through the use of these high-tech cameras and other equipment, pinpoint a leak.”

Next month, Hickenlooper plans to start convening industry people and others involved in the issue to discuss the proposals in more detail, and help draft legislation for next year’s legislative session.


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