Friday, May 05, 2017

Most states lack oil and gas pipeline regulations to cover instances like fatal Colorado explosion

A home explosion in Firestone, Colo. April 17 killed two
and sent two people to the hospital. (Denver Post photo)
"Most states don't have regulations covering the pipelines that carry methane and other fluids around oil and gas well sites that were blamed this week for a fatal explosion in a Colorado neighborhood," Mike Soraghan and Mike Lee report for Energywire. "Colorado is one of the few states with rules for 'flow lines'—the low-pressure pipes that run to collection points and tank batteries. Under a program started in 2015, well owners must pressure-test the flow lines every year, and the state audits a portion of all the tests."

The Colorado explosion "focused attention on a key gap in Colorado's rules—regulators didn't have good information on where most flow lines are located, even in areas with intense home development," reports Energywire. "After the explosion, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission ordered oil companies to recheck lines near homes and buildings, and provide an inventory of their locations."

"Flow lines are more common with conventional oil and gas development, in which vertical wells are scattered across vast acreage. In modern shale development, horizontal well bores spread out underground," reports Energywire. "But wellheads are concentrated in one area at the surface, so there's less need for long flow lines."

California has pressure-testing rules, but Soraghan and Lee note that most states have far less stringent rules than Colorado on flow lines. Pennsylvania has pressure-testing rules "for 'well development pipelines' that carry frack water to sites," but "the rules for gathering pipelines that carry gas are primarily related to how the trenches can be dug and backfilled."

"In Oklahoma, where there's an oil well on the Statehouse lawn, a state law prohibits regulations that are stricter than federal rules. So the state is prohibited from overseeing most small pipelines, including gathering lines and flow lines," reports Energywire. "A spokeswoman for Texas regulators said the state doesn't impose construction or testing rules on lines that run from a wellhead to the first point of measurement, or on small, low-pressure lines in rural areas. North Dakota and Wyoming have rules on flow lines, but they kick in only when the well is being closed down for good."

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