After a three month analysis of the Colorado oil and gas industry, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced seven changes he would like to see in order to prevent another tragedy like the one in Firestone.
In April, a severed gas line connected to an abandoned well caused a home to explode killing two men and severely injuring another. After that accident, the governor called for a review of oil and gas operations.
"What happened in Firestone, we've never seen before. We are spending millions of dollars to do everything we can to make sure it never happens again,” Hickenlooper said during a press conference Tuesday morning at the Capitol.
The industry review included an order from the governor to check all of Colorado's 120,000 oil and gas pipelines, including the abandoned lines at 23,000 well sites.
"Historically, we didn't have any information on these flow lines, and that's a recipe for disaster,” he said.
Hickenlooper said he hopes the outlined changes will make the community safer and he believes could influence industry standards across the country. The plan is to have all seven initiatives in place within a year.
1. Update Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) rules
The COGCC is the group tasked with the responsible development of the state's oil and gas resources. Hickenlooper said the commission’s flow line regulations need to be improved and strengthened including flow line abandonment requirements.
2. Enhance the 811 program
The Colorado Utility Locator program was designed to protect underground infrastructure and 811 is the number people are asked to call before excavating a property.
Now that there is new information about the location of flow lines, 811 will be able to assist homeowners with where the lines are on the property. Within three days, someone will go to the yard in question and place marker flags along flow lines.
There will not be an actual map handed out or available online.
"If we just have a data base on the COGCC website that anybody that has access to the internet can get all of that information, that does raise some privacy and security concerns,” explained Matt Lepore, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director.
3. Create a voluntary orphan well fund
State officials will need to work with the oil and gas industry to create the pot of money funded by the industry. It would be used to properly plug abandoned wells that are no longer being used. Hickenlooper said there are currently more than 700 in the state.
The money could also be used to provide rebates for in-home methane monitors for residents who live near oil and gas production.
This would be a voluntary fund.
4. Prohibit any future domestic gas taps
"What we mean is, often times when an oil and gas company drills on a rancher's land, part of the transaction in the lease is that they get their own, if there's a discovery, they get their own gas line into their own kitchen or into their own home and they get free gas,” Hickenlooper said.
He explained that many times the gas is not odorized and if there is a leak, it creates a hazard. Current domestic gas taps would be grandfathered in.
5. Create a technical workgroup to improve safety training
This would benefit industry employees and contractors.
The workgroup would create best practices and make sure there is a high standard of training. It would also review existing training and recommend new standards.
6. Request peer review for COGCC rules
The review could come from other oil and gas companies and regulators across the country to see how Colorado is doing.
7. Create a methane leak detection pilot program
The governor said one oil and gas company uses aerial detection to discover leaks while surveying pipes from above. He suggests things like that could be implemented or new technology could be used to ensure safety and prevent an explosion.
"If you look at what the response to that accident is, we're talking tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars are going to be spent and the system is going to be changed,” said Hickenlooper.