Colorado Pipeline Spills Happen In Regulatory Vacuum


February 24th, 2015 | The Denver Post | Bruce Finley

The Denver Post reports that a recent pipeline spill outside of Denver highlights the fact that oil and gas pipelines are sometimes left unregulated in the state and in much of the country.

In Colorado, companies are required to report spills to the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission but, according to a spokesperson, the agency does not regulate or inspect pipelines beyond drill pads.

In her series “The Pipeline Network,” Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reported that the country’s pipeline infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the nation’s oil and gas boom. This rapid growth is leading to spills and a shortage of regulators. Joyce wrote that right now, each federal inspector is responsible for almost enough pipeline to circle the earth. Although more pipelines are being built, the current system is aging: About 45 percent of U.S. crude oil pipeline is more than 50 years old.

In North Dakota, the pipeline problem is particularly acute. Inside Energy’s Emily Guerin visited a spill site near Williston, North Dakota where a pipeline had recently leaked nearly three million gallons of wastewater into a nearby creek. According to state data, in 2012, North Dakota’s spill rate per well was 63 percent higher than in 2006.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, more than 2.6 million miles of underground pipelines carry natural gas, crude oil and natural gas liquids from producing fields to processing facilities. PHMSA estimates that more than 200,000 miles of these “gathering pipelines,” are unregulated in Colorado and other states.

PHMSA spokesman Damon Hill told The Denver Post that the federal authorities are considering regulating and inspecting gathering pipelines.