Talking Points for Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) Meeting

The COGCC’s next regularly scheduled hearing is Monday, May 1, 2017.  The meeting begins at 9 a.m. and public comment is permitted following the commissioner’s statements and so likely will commence at 9:30 a.m. You have to sign in to speak. Space is limited so arriving early is a good idea. The following key points were developed by ACCDAN. The meeting location is as follows: The Chancery Building, 1120 Lincoln Street, Suite 801, Denver, CO 80203.  Agenda has not yet been posted.

There are numerous other points that can and should be made and we encourage individuals and other organizations to develop lists of their key points as well.

1)      Setbacks Needed for Existing Wells – The home explosion at 6312 Twilight Avenue and the possibility that an existing vertical well 178 feet from the home and/or associated gathering lines may have played a role in the explosion highlights the need for safe setbacks to be established and consistently enforced statewide either by COGCC or legislated by the state legislature if COGCC continues to abdicate that responsibility to local governments. Local governments do not have the knowledge, expertise or resources to determine and set safe setbacks. It is COGCC’s responsibility to protect the public health, safety and environment in the realm of oil and gas.

2)      Location Mapping and Regulation of Gathering Lines – Currently there are no regulations regarding gathering lines and development over existing oil and gas gathering lines. And in some cases the locations of such lines are not known, mapped or identified.  As development encroaches on established oil and gas, these lines can and will likely be disturbed and may result in future accident, injury and death. Therefore, COGCC should enact rules requiring these existing lines to be located, identified, and mapped and to put in place regulations that are protective. If COGCC abdicates this responsibility, the state legislature should step in to fill this void.

3)      Increased Inspection Frequency and/or Closure of Older Wells – As the oil and gas infrastructure ages, more incidents, spills and accidents are likely to continue to occur.  The well 178 feet from the Martinez family home had not been inspected since 2014 and the COGCC records show the wrong operator of the well so records are not being kept updated either.  COGCC must ensure all wells are inspected on at least an annual basis and in particular the older ones which are more prevalent to historic leaking. Pressure testing should be required. If not actively producing and being monitored monthly by operators and inspected regularly by COGCC, these wells should be closed and remediated to remove the risk.  This action needs to be accelerated in particular if the explosion at the Martinez family home is tied to the existing 1993 vintage vertical well or oil and gas gathering lines.

4)      Timeliness and Transparency in Public Information– The COGGC stated that it had been involved in the explosion investigation for 6312 Twilight Avenue since April 18 and Anadarko began shutting down its wells soon after the explosion. However, the neighbors and public were not informed of this activity until April 26 and 27 – more than one week later. This is not acceptable in terms of transparency in government in particular where matters of public health and safety are involved. The public had the right to know that there is the potential that nearby oil and gas wells and/or gathering lines may pose a hazard to them so that they could elect to stay in a hotel until the danger was cleared or at least know not to do any electrical or other igniting work on their homes. We applaud Anadarko for the cautionary measures it has taken to protect the public, however, these measures should have been announced sooner. In addition, the details selected by COGCC to be provided in its press conference versus those that were not shared are concerning. For example, COGCC stated that methane tests after the existing wells were shut down revealed that there was no methane in the neighborhood. But what about the methane tests before the wells were shut down? Were any taken? Did those indicate the presence of raw natural gas (that without the additives that cause it to have an odor).  In general, we are disappointed in the timeliness and transparency of information.