Pipeline inspections provide cold comfort in Gasland

Roberto Leiba with the oilfield company Naill Services adjusts a well outside Windsor to attach a test tree. The well’s owner, Extraction Oil & Gas, hired the company to help inspect their underground flowlines near buildings. Those pipes transfer oil, gas and water to a storage tank or separator. [Photo by Grace Hood/CPR News]

In the aftermath of the fatal home explosion in Firestone last April, which killed homeowner Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joey Irwin, and seriously injured Mark’s wife Erin, Governor Hickenlooper ordered all Colorado oil and gas operators to inspect thousands of wells and miles of pipelines and associated flowlines. The state’s first inspections deadline occurred on May 30. A second deadline of June 30 was applied for operators to address problems with any of those pipelines and flowlines.

The pipeline that was involved in the Firestone tragedy is, technically-speaking, a flowline that was no longer in use but had not been capped.

What is the difference between a flowline and pipeline?

According to Bob Arrington, PE: “Pipelines are any piping system from point A to point B. Flowlines are the pipelines between wells and equipment on the pads to the meter(s). From the meters they are gathering lines to compressor stations, gas plants, and terminals. From the plants, which for gas may involve removal of salable liquids, they will become transport lines for interstate or intra-state transport. These lines are usually at much higher pressure and size for the combined volumes of the fields. COGCC regulates flow lines. PUC [Public Utilities Commission] regulates gathering and transport lines by designation from U.S. Department of Transportation.”

Bob created this schematic to illustrate flowlines, adding: “These can also include water supply and waste water removal to off pad sites.”

“Green Completion” Schematic
Having 2 stage separator reducing pressure allows greater removal of VOCs from gas stream and reduced pressure surges on storage tanks
Suggested explanations and improvements added by Bob Arrington, PE. All well equipment and tanks subject to later removal as well stabilizes on flowback or abandoned.

At the arrival of the second deadline on June 30, the Greely Tribune reported:

The state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which ordered all oil and gas companies to test all flow lines existing within 1,000 feet of a building by the end of June, is still busy digesting the slew of data and have come to no conclusions on future actions or requirements …

… But any new requirements on further inspections or future actions that could be associated those flow lines have yet to be discussed.

“Right now, COGCC’s focus is to work with operators to ensure all the data is provided uniformly so that COGCC has an accurate picture,” wrote Todd Hartman, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the COGCC, in an email. “This will continue to take time … In the weeks and months to come, COGCC will be paying closest attention to facilities where equipment is more spread out, such as lengthier distances between tanks and wells. Those will, generally, have a higher priority for review than sites where wells, separators and tanks (and associated flow lines) are co-located.”

At the Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum in Rifle on Thursday, the COGCC’s engineering manager Stuart Ellsworth presented a status update on the state’s pipeline inspections as reported in the Daily Sentinel:

… Statewide, the commission has received flowline information associated with more than 23,000 wells. More than 30,000 tests were conducted, and companies have abandoned some 7,600 lines.

Ellsworth said 462 lines failed their tests. Five percent were repaired or replaced, and most of the rest were locked and tagged pending repair or replacement or abandonment, or have been scheduled for abandonment.

Companies haven’t yet told the state of their plans for the other 6 percent, and finding that out is a priority for the state, Ellsworth said.

In the Piceance Basin in western Colorado more than 7,000 pipelines passed pressure tests, 10 failed, and companies have decided to abandon 395 lines.

Read the full article: Companies abandon 395 flowlines in Piceance after an ordered review

Coincidentally, we recently learned that Williams is replacing the pipeline associated with the 2013 Parachute Creek spill that contaminated Parachute Creek and pumped tons of benzene and associated hydrocarbons into the ground, water, and air for months, poisoning thousands of people across western Garfield.

Read all about it: Williams to replace Parachute pipeline
(Be sure to scroll down and read the discussion between Robert Laitres and Bob Arrington in the comments section.)

The reason given for replacing the pipeline, according to Williams’ project manager Diana Anderson, is because the U.S. Department of Transportation has suddenly, after 4 years, decided to take over regulatory authority of that particular line.

Bob Arrington explained: “PUC regulates gathering and transport lines by designation from U.S. Department of Transportation. At the gas plant in Parachute, the feds have come in to oversee the lines on their extracted liquids.”

But the whole thing sounds fishy in light of the fact that the decision to replace the pipeline just so happened to coincide with a state-mandated pipeline inspection.

We also learned from the article that reclamation work is still ongoing four and a half years after the spill. Sorry, but to this day I cannot bring myself to call that disaster a leak. In my world, a hundred thousand gallons of hydrocarbons is not a “leak.” In truth, it wasn’t even a spill. It was a flood of hydrocarbons in the soil, water, and air that dragged on for months, and then years.

Here on the West Slope we endured hard lessons that year. The most unsettling was that state officials and industry reps lied to our faces repeatedly, without batting an eye — even when presented with stone cold facts. At public meetings we witnessed COGCC Director Matt Lepore behave as though he was the attorney representing Williams. And we, the people, were treated as adversaries — “anti-industry activists.”

When in truth we are all just human beings concerned with protecting our health, safety, property values, and our environment.

Nothing has changed in four years, one month, and one week. Back then the state used the media and Williams generated a PR website to dazzle us with numbers. Numbers of gallons of hydrocarbons recovered, numbers of benzene levels on a declining scale, numbers of truckloads of contaminated soil removed, numbers of officials and workers on the job monitoring the situation. As though blinding us with raw data could have eased our fears, all of which came to pass as the benzene/hydrocarbon soup polluted the soil, groundwater, watershed, creek, and ultimately our air, and sickened hundreds (maybe even thousands) of us. We’ll never know because, even though we begged, the CDPHE refused to monitor air quality or collect public health data.

As evidenced by the COGCC’s presentation at the Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum, they’re still playing a numbers game with us. The industry is still reporting self-monitored data to the state. And the state is sanctimoniously spitting those numbers out to the public as appeasement for their lack of effective regulatory oversight.

But numbers are cold comfort as more new pipelines are being laid through communities and residential subdivisions daily across Colorado. There’s no such animal as a pipeline inspection division in this state. Operators hire sub-contractors to dig and lay pipeline. They self-monitor and self-inspect. Inspections by county or state officials don’t happen unless there’s a complaint or an incident, such as the flood and fire incidents during pipeline construction in Battlement Mesa last spring.

Numbers don’t begin to address people’s real concerns with the intrusion of oil & gas development in their neighborhoods. And no amount of data will close the deepening chasm of distrust growing among Coloradans with their government.

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One Comment on “Pipeline inspections provide cold comfort in Gasland”

  1. frackfiles Says:

    You gotta love the “purveyors of death” focused on dirty profits caring nothing for those who call Colorado our home.

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