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Colorado Governor proposes measures to reduce home explosion risk

24 August 2017

Following the April blast that destroyed a house, killed two and seriously injured a third in Firestone, Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper has come up with a list of proposals he says should reduce the risk of any similar incidents happening again. Investigators blamed the explosion on gas leaking from a severed pipeline that was thought to have been abandoned but was still connected to a well.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper - Shutterstock
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper - Shutterstock

The Anadarko Petroleum well had been shut off for months, but had been turned back on a couple of months prior to the explosion. With the well back on, unodourised gas seeped through the severed flowline into the home’s basement, triggering the explosion when the victims tried to replace a water heater there.

In response to the explosion, the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) ordered companies to locate, inspect and repair any damaged flowlines in the state. Some companies also shut off older wells in proximity to other homes in residential areas.

The Colorado Governor said the circumstances surrounding this explosion had never been seen before in the state but millions of dollars would be spent to ensure nothing like it happened again.

At a press conference on 22 August, Hickenlooper proposed seven changes to existing practice, some which will require simple rulemaking, and others that would require legislation.

* Turn the recent order for companies to locate and inspect their flowlines into daily practice and eliminate rules that exempt low-pressure flow lines from pressure testing.

* Enhance Colorado’s 811 gas line notification system to include natural gas lines information from the oil and gas industry. Residents would be able to call the line to get specific information on gas lines on their property. This would require a significant upgrading of the existing service.

* Expand the fund that covers the capping of abandoned wells. The existing state fund of about $500k a year allows 10 wells or so to be capped annually, and the Governor suggested oil and gas companies active in the state should contribute to a larger fund to increase the rate at which the estimated 700-800 ‘orphan’ wells could be capped. They would also fund the purchase of home methane detectors for residents.

* Create legislation to prohibit future domestic gas taps directly into wells on resident properties.

* Create a technical work group to improve safety training within the industry.

* Carry out a peer review of COGCC rules.

* Set up a pilot program on methane leak detection.

But the state would not provide an online map of oil and gas pipelines, Hickenlooper said, which he had earlier suggested should be made available following the Firestone explosion. He said such a map would raise security and theft issues and the expanded 811 notification system should provide the necessary location information at a property owner's request.

Nor did he announce any further restrictions on the proximity of oil and gas developments to homes in residential areas, a central demand of concerned groups in the state.

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