Gov. John Hickenlooper announced during a press conference this afternoon that the state is going to reevaluate the entire oil and gas inspection process following the recent fatal home explosion in Firestone, Colorado.
Firestone’s fire department said yesterday that a severed but uncapped natural gas flowline had been leaking dangerous gas into the soil near the home’s foundation since late January, when operator Anadarko restarted a well about 170 feet away. The odorless gas seeped through the French drain and into the basement sump pump before finally catching fire in a violent explosion.
“It’s unthinkable by almost any capacity of imagination,” Hickenlooper told assembled media in the Capitol. He then reiterated the order he made yesterday in a statement: “We’re going to shut down and inspect flowlines all over the state, especially those even remotely close to a house.”
Under Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) rules, a cut flowline should also be capped and filled with inert material so that no hydrocarbons can travel through it. Hickenlooper said that it is still unclear why the line in question was severed.
The inspection, which is expected to take a month, will include all flowlines within 1,000 feet of homes. Hickenlooper said the process will be completed at a speed matching its urgency —”If it doesn’t take 30 days, it will take 32 days,” he said — and that although working at such a rapid pace is expensive, “I think everyone realizes the severity of the situation.”
The governor didn’t specify how the state would conduct the inspections. COGCC director Matt Lepore said in a story for The Colorado Independent last October that the agency had just three enforcement officers — a step up from having only one in previous years. The COGCC conducted 39,000 inspections in the previous year, Lepore said, but the majority of those were visual inspections. The state has more than 50,000 active wells, “thousands” of which will be reviewed, Lepore said in a press conference Tuesday.
Colorado residents have expressed concern after learning the cause of the explosion, a fear made worse by not knowing whether their homes are located near old or abandoned flowlines.
Anyone can access maps of the wells in the state, but no such maps exist for flowlines. The COGCC has a pretty good idea of where most newer flowlines are, said Hickenlooper, but data is rare for older wells. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say we want to know where those lines are,” he said.
But the governor said that such a project would likely require legislation, and with only five days left in the legislative session, that’s unlikely. He said that he isn’t sure whether the task should be the responsibility of the state or of local governments.
Though residents cannot know for sure whether their own homes are at risk, Hickenlooper said that the Firestone incident “feels like almost the perfect storm” and doesn’t believe it is likely to happen again. Still, he says, he “won’t relax.”
“We are…I wouldn’t say completely confident, but we are hopeful that this will be a unique situation, a one-time occurrence,” he said. “Until then, we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure homes are safe.”
Watch the entire press conference here.
Photo credit: Allen Tian, The Colorado Independent