Mapping Colorado's invisible pipeline network

Our partners at Inside Energy and Rocky Mountain PBS have the story.

INSIDE ENERGY - A one-inch pipeline running just feet below a home in Firestone, Colorado, leaked odorless gas into the basement this spring, causing an explosion that leveled the house. Two people died and another was severely injured.  

In the following weeks, fears mounted and questions piled up over these small “flowlines.” Communities wanted to know: Where are other flowlines located? The answer was unsatisfying. A publicly available statewide map of these lines did not exist.

Following the explosion, Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered a review of oil and gas operations. As part of this review, companies were required to turn in GPS location data for all flowlines within 1,000 feet of buildings by May 30. Now, Inside Energy has mapped that data.

Map: Start/End Points of Flowlines

In this map, we’ve taken the start and end points of each flowline and drawn a line between them so you can see the approximate flowline locations. Data is not available on the exact flowline routes. Zoom in for more detail. For a description of how we cleaned the data to prepare it for mapping, read our data notes.

This is a brand new, emerging set of data. It is far from complete; many flow lines are simply missing. And at least some GPS location data is incorrect. What do we mean by incorrect? Well, some of the flowlines led to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Clearly that data contains an error.

What we do know is that as with oil and gas wells, this infrastructure is extensive.

What can we learn from these new maps? Here are a few things that jump out at us:

- This infrastructure is highly concentrated in Weld County. This makes sense, given current oil and gas development in that area.

- You can observe many fan-shaped formations near Dacono, for example. These are likely pipelines that connect multiple wells to a central processing facility or tank battery.

- On the map, we’ve colored flowlines by operator. You can see that operators tend to cluster in specific geographic areas. Noble, for example, operates the majority of the flowlines near Greeley.

What can’t this data tell us? Here are some problems and limitations that jump out at us:

- Not all of the GPS location data is accurate. The first version of this map (here’s a link if you want to see it) showed pipelines extending all the way to Mexico. These are unusual data points so we removed them from this version of the map.

- Not all of the GPS location data is there. Some operators simply left those fields empty

- Operators submitted to COGCC the start and end points of flowlines, rather than the full paths. On this map, we’ve connected the start and end points with a straight line so that you can see the rough flow line locations. However, we don’t know the shape of each line.

- Flowlines that are nowhere near buildings are not shown because operators weren’t required to report those locations.

- We don’t know what all of these lines are carrying. There are many types of flowlines, outlined below, but they don’t all transport the same thing.

Well Site Flowline- the line between the wellhead and the separator

Sales Line – the gas line from the separator to the gas meter

Dump Lines – the low pressure water, condensate and oil lines which go to storage tank(s) Process Piping – in multi-well pad situations, individual dump lines manifold together prior to going to a set of tanks connected by piping. Includes Vapor Recovery Lines, Fuel Gas Supply Lines, and Bypass Lines

Non-Well Site Flowline – the line between the Well Site and the point of transfer when the water treatment facility, production facility or transfer point is not located at the Well Site

COGCC wasn’t willing to review our map but emailed this statement:

“…This is taking COGCC a great deal of time- and will continue to; this is a months-long effort (not weeks). The agency is moving carefully and cautiously to ensure development of accurate information.

Understand: The data part of this project is the long-term part. The short-term, urgent piece of it was to get boots on the ground to verify locations, lock out inactive risers and pressure-test flowlines.”

This data is imperfect but Inside Energy felt it was our duty to show the information that is available, in the best way that we can, given the public interest and concern around flowlines after the home explosion in April.

What’s Next:

We want to hear from you! Send us questions and tips about oil and gas development where you live at ask.insideenergy.org.

Dive into the data yourself! Download Flowline NTO Inventory directly from COGCC here. You can also get our notes and code for how we cleaned and mapped the data here, as well as download the cleaned dataset and shape files.

Operators have until June 30 to test their flowlines and fix any problems. Stay tuned for more.

Copyright 2017 Inside Energy


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