Colorado Tightens Regulations on Oil and Gas Above Ground Storage Tanks

Two years after a serious flood in Colorado, the state’s Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) has instated stricter rules for the oil and gas facilities in floodplain lands.

Coloradoan reports that the commission issued these rules on March 2nd despite the protests from the local oil and gas industries and some politicians, deeming them unnecessary.

“The amount of oil that got into the floodwater was literally and figuratively a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions of gallons [of floodwater] that came through our county,” said Barbara Kirkmeyer, Weld County Commissioner. “The [previous] rules worked….You’re rewarding a great response with more rules.”

Kirkmeyer was referring to a set of devastating floods that hit Colorado in September 2013. The floods caused more than $1.7 billion in damages and resulted in the deaths of 10 people.

Roughly 48,000 gallons of oil and 43,000 gallons of produced water spilled into the floodwater according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. More than 2,600 oil and gas wells were halted or shut down.

The new rules apply to gas and oil facilities, including drills, service operations, and above ground storage tanks, found in designed floodplain lands. One-hundred year floodplains can be declared by a federal, state, or county agency.

The rules, taking effect on April 1st, 2016 for old wells, will require above ground storage tank units holding oil or gas to be equipped with remote shut-in capabilities and secondary containment areas. In addition, all wells must be retrofitted with containment berms built on steel rings or an equivalent and must be anchored to the ground as to resist flotation. Pits with exploration and production waste are no longer allowed.

As for newly-built tanks, the rules will go into effect for them this summer. Steel tank manufacturers must keep these rules in mind when building new above ground storage tanks for these areas. Operators will have to report to the COGCC and submit a reaction plan as well.

Though environmental activists are pleased with the new rules, some government officials and industry professionals (including professionals outside of oil and gas) are concerned that the rules will hinder their work rather than provide safeguards for it. Trout Unlimited, a coldwater fishery, feels the rules do not effectively address the issue.

“Trout Unlimited maintains that the best way to avoid contamination from floodwater events is to avoid locating within a floodplain,” said Shane Cross, an attorney with Trout Unlimited. “But we think these rules go a long way towards addressing these risks.”

Other kinds of tanks, such as liquid fertilizer tanks, are not affected by these new rules.

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