New regulations have been issued regarding the inspection and maintenance of flowlines in the wake of a tragic Colorado home explosion that resulted in two deaths and critically injured one other.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a directive on actions to be taken by the oil and gas sector, and the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) issued a Notice to Operators. The new regulations followed an investigation by the Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District (FFFD) linking the explosion to a severed, abandoned flowline.

“It would appear that an unusual and tragic set of circumstances occurred here, including circumstances around the proper identification of, and maintenance of, the related abandoned flowlines,” said FFFPD District Chief Ted Poszywak. The findings, he said, were part of “a complex and ongoing investigation.”

The explosion occurred on April 17 at a home that was within 200 ft of a well, but the well was not a factor, according to Poszywak.

“The proximity of the well to the home was not a contributing cause in this incident,” he said. “It was the abandoned flow lines that were the source of the leak and the explosion.”

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. is the current owner of the well, but was not the operator when certain flowlines were cut in connection with abandoning a nearby tank battery well over a decade ago.

Poszywak went on to describe four lines. Two, including an abandoned line, were pressure tested and found to be secure. Two other abandoned lines, running from the wellhead to a former storage tank battery “then became our focus,” he said.

The latter two lines, a 2-in. line and a 1-in. return line, were apparently severed and abandoned as the tank battery was moved ahead of development of the subdivision. The 2-in. line was found to be disconnected and capped, but the 1-in. line was still connected to the well via an open valve.

“Gas came from a severed and uncapped abandoned line that was not disconnected at the wellhead,” according to Poszywak. “The flow of the gas would have been through the broken line into the soil around the home, which would have leached into the French drain, and would have migrated through the French drains into the sump pump and into the basement of the home.”

On the Colorado governor’s website, a directive instructs oil and gas operators to take the following actions:

* Inspect and pressure test existing oil and gas flowlines within  1,000 ft of occupied buildings to ensure integrity;

* Ensure that any lines that are not in use are properly marked and capped; and

* Ensure all abandoned lines are cut below the surface and sealed.

“Inspections of existing flowlines within 1,000 ft of occupied buildings must occur within 30 days and tested for integrity within 60 days. Lines that have been either abandoned or are not in use must be inspected within 30 days and abandoned under current rules within 60 days.”

For example, “Phase I – to be completed by May 30, 2017,” of COGCC’s Notice To Operators reads,

 “Operators are required to re-inspect any existing flowlines and pipelines located within 1,000 feet of a building unit and identify the well API number and tank battery (location ID number) associated with each line.”

Under “Phase 2 – to be completed by June 30, 2017,” it reads: “Operators are required to ensure and document that all flowlines within 1,000 feet of a building have integrity. The exception from pressure testing requirements for low pressure flowlines or pipelines in Rule 1101.e(2) does not apply.”

How hard will it be for operators to comply with these regulations?

One industry observer said the new regulations should be “within the industry’s capability,” since pressure tests are conducted regularly in “the normal course of business.” He was unaware of any operators who had indicated they would be unable to meet the prescribed deadlines.

Chris Sheehan can be reached at csheehan@hartenergy.com.