Waterways a topic in Garfield pipeline talks

A Garfield County commissioner on Thursday stressed the importance of waterway protection during a discussion of proposed changes to county land-use codes applying to pipelines and other development.

County officials also indicated they are looking forward to hearing what comes of discussions within the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission aimed at identifying how various types of pipelines are regulated and what regulatory gaps exist. The COGCC effort was prompted by Williams’ leak of thousands of gallons of natural gas liquids into the Parachute Creek watershed this winter.

County commissioners have been working to streamline land-use codes to remove redundancies and unnecessary obstacles to economic development. But the effort has prompted some fears that the effort would weaken environmental protections, including in the case of the oil and gas industry.

“To think that we have to do things to expedite economic development that put our resources at jeopardy is a curious thing to me,” Richard Votero of Carbondale told commissioners. He said the Parachute Creek incident points to the need to have more local control over environmental protections rather than less.

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky worried that while the county’s current pipeline regulations and proposed revisions require a survey of sensitive areas such as wetlands and sensitive plant populations, no such requirement applies to waterways, which he said “are extremely sensitive.”

However, Phil Vaughan, who owns a construction company that does pipeline work, said the county addresses waterways indirectly already, under a requirement that pipeline proposals indicate what other regulatory approvals are being obtained. For a waterway crossing, these can include state stormwater and federal Army Corps of Engineers permits.

Jankovsky said if that’s the case, he sees no need to address waterways again in the county pipeline rules.

Those rules primarily address land-use-related issues such as visual impacts and revegetation.

A variety of government agencies have some say over regulation of various pipelines. However, no entity appears to regulate the design and testing of the line that connects Williams’ gas processing plant to tanks across the creek, as was the source of the leak. That leak resulted in small levels of benzene reaching the creek, although the carcinogen hasn’t been detected there now for more than a week.

Many gathering lines connecting wells to processing plants also face no design and testing regulations, although a federal pipeline agency is considering expanding its rules to all such lines.


COMMENTS

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Yes, obviously the current rules are working just awesomely, which is why a spill that Williams initially ‘thought’ was ‘less than 25 gallons’ turned out to be—oh—400 times that; why benzene ended up in the creek; and why Williams did not even bother to report it for three months.  Carry on Commissioners your work is almost done!

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