Energy companies have inspected thousands of local oil and gas flowlines near homes and provided the state with an inventory of the lines following an order to complete those tasks, and now face a second deadline to test those lines.
The companies are responding to a directive by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission after investigators determined that an April explosion that killed two people in a home in Firestone was caused by gas emitting from a flowline from a nearby oil and gas well. The line had been abandoned but never was disconnected from the well or capped, and was somehow severed near the home. Flowlines connect oil and gas wells to tanks, larger gathering lines that collect gas from multiple wells, or other equipment.
Based on a directive from Gov. John Hickenlooper, the oil and gas commission required that by Tuesday of this week, companies inspect any flowlines and other pipelines within 1,000 feet of a building unit and provide the commission with flowline inventory and location data.
Companies also had to take steps including making sure that all flowlines not in use, regardless of distance from buildings, are marked and capped.
Under the second phase of the order, with a June 30 deadline, companies must pressure-test all lines within 1,000 of buildings, and take steps including properly abandoning or removing any lines not in use, or putting them back in use after testing them.
Laramie Energy, with close to 1,300 producing wells in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin, identified about 900 flowlines closer than 1,000 feet from buildings. Local Laramie official Chis Clark noted by email that the definition of flowlines under the order “was very broad and included lines which normally would not be accounted for such as water lines and low pressure dump lines.”
He said that in addition to a gas flowline, a typical well may have an additional four to six lines “for produced liquids, fresh water, fuel gas or chemical treatment lines.”
He said of 899 lines identified under the inventory, 43 will be abandoned or removed by the June 30 deadline, and the rest pressure-tested.
A number of the Laramie lines within 1,000 feet of buildings are in the Collbran or Rifle areas. But Bob Hea, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Laramie, said the company’s holdings are still generally in fairly rural areas, and not near towns.
Terra Energy Partners submitted inventories to the state Tuesday on more than 2,700 flowline segments meeting the criteria for building proximity under the first phase of the state’s order.
Terra is the largest gas producer in the Piceance Basin, operating several thousand wells.
Complying with the state’s order has been no small task for Terra or Laramie.
“The large quantity of flowlines in our inventory required a substantial effort on the part of Terra employees to meet the deadline and was only possible by beginning with an already well-maintained database,” said Terra spokesperson Susan Alvillar.
She said Terra has more than 15 crews working to comply with the phase-two requirements.
“We meet challenges from a regulatory standpoint every day in our work and this effort is no different,” she said.
Hea said Laramie has hired contractors to help it with its compliance effort. He said the company began work within a day or two after the order came out and worked some long days to meet the first deadline.
He said the second phase will be a different kind of challenge. The company ordered digital pressure gauges that can record data, which will help it in carrying out pressure tests and providing results to the state. Doing the tests will probably involve an even greater workload than the first phase of the state’s order did, he said.
“Some lines require 15-minute tests, some lines require one-hour tests, and you can only do so many at a time,” he said.
He said the first-phase work turned up no surprises with the company’s lines. Most are fairly new, and either were put in by Laramie, or involved wells that it purchased from companies whose local employees it ended up hiring, so it already knew about most of the lines.
Don Simpson, a vice president with Ursa Resources, said it’s already nearly finished with the second phase of the required flowline work.
“We found no problems with any of our pipelines or anything like that,” he said.
He didn’t know offhand how many of its lines fell within the 1,000-foot building threshold. Ursa has fewer wells than some other local energy companies but has drilled closer to homes in places such as the Battlement Mesa area.
Much of Ursa’s drilling in that area is fairly new, so it had a lot of its flowlines identified already, Simpson said.
It also has wells in the Silt area, including ones that it acquired when it bought Antero Resources’ Piceance Basin assets years ago. While some of the Silt-area wells are older, Simpson said Ursa doesn’t have abandoned wells or abandoned flowlines, such as the line at issue in the Firestone explosion.
Information wasn’t available from the oil and gas commission as of late afternoon Wednesday about the level of compliance by companies with the first phase of the flowline order.