Spills, Fires & Explosions: A Look At Pipelines By The Numbers

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A home explosion in a Denver suburb in April that has been linked to energy development has left Colorado communities wondering: are we safe? To give some context to that question, Inside Energy and Rocky Mountain PBS has analyzed data relating to spills, fires, explosions, and the inspectors charged with keeping an eye on it all.

We have also been keeping tabs on new data from oil and gas operators on a type of pipeline called a flowline. It was a flowline that had leaked gas into the home in Firestone, causing the April explosion. In May, the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission directed companies to provide GPS location data for their flowlines and also to test those lines. Inside Energy used that GPS location data to make a map and now we’re sorting through the pressure tests. A failed test could indicate a leak.  

Our initial analysis has showed that Anadarko subsidiary Kerr-McGee reported more failed pressure test than other operators, so we dug into those its reports. Anadarko owned the line that led to the Firestone home explosion in April.

Anadarko:

  • 64 lines failed the integrity test
  • 12 of those are ‘flowlines’ 
  • 52 of those are ‘process piping’
  • Anadarko says it pressure tested over 27,000 lines in total
  • The company was unable to say how many of the 64 lines are within 500 feet of a building
  • The wells and tank batteries associated with these 64 lines have been ‘shut-in pending engineering and economic evaluation.’

Anadarko spokesman John Christensen responded to a few of our key questions:

What are the key differences between flowlines and process piping, as Anadarko defines them?

In our submissions with the COGCC and on our website, a flowline refers to the underground line that runs from a wellhead to a tank facility. Process piping is an underground line that is fully contained within a tank facility location.”

In other words, Anadarko says that its process piping are lines that start and end within a well pad and therefore wouldn’t extend out towards buildings like homes or schools.

Is this failure rate normal?

“We have a high degree of confidence in the integrity of our operated equipment throughout the DJ Basin, and the pressure-testing efforts have confirmed that, with more than 99.6 percent passing the testing. Importantly, any line that did not pass the pressure-testing program is currently shut in and will remain so until it can be replaced and retested, and it’s integrity can be confirmed.”

What is Anadarko doing to fix these problems?

“Again, for the fraction of a percent that failed the pressure-testing program, each will be completely replaced and retested. If the well is a candidate for P&A [plugging and abandonment], the associated line will be plugged and abandoned as well. We will continue to work through this program over the coming weeks.”

What’s Next:

  • Inside Energy & Rocky Mountain PBS are following this story. Stay tuned for more!
  • People who live near the exploded home are worried about their own homes values. Check out Leigh Paterson’s story here.
  • Check out COGCC’s Daily Activity Dashboard for recent info on spills, violations, and wells.