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Colorado lawmakers consider legislation to improve pipeline safety following audit

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Posted at 8:49 PM, Mar 20, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-20 22:49:38-04

DENVER — State lawmakers are considering a bill that supporters say is aimed at improving pipeline safety. It comes after an audit found state regulators were falling short.

The House Energy and Environment Committee held a hearing on HB24-1357 on Wednesday.

State Reps. Tammy Story, D-Conifer, and Kyle Brown, D-Louisville, are sponsoring the bill in the House.

Story says lawmakers passed legislation in 2021 to improve pipeline safety requirements. But she says after a state audit report was released last year, they had to go back to the drawing board.

“This performance audit outlined some egregious findings,” said Story.

The audit found that the Gas Pipeline Safety Program, which is administered by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), “did not sufficiently follow federal and state requirements, or legislative intent, to help ensure gas pipeline safety in Colorado.”

The audit also found “pervasive problems” that signified “the need for improved processes, systems, management, and oversight.”

“After this report, it was clear that we needed to do more,” Story said.

Story and Brown said their legislation would ramp up enforcement by adjusting minimum penalty amounts and increasing maximum penalty caps for non-compliance among pipeline operators.

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State Reps. Tammy Story, D-Conifer, and Kyle Brown, D-Louisville, held a press conference on Wednesday to discuss HB24-1357.

It would also expand reporting requirements and make sure pipeline operators are conducting regular inspections using advanced leak detection technology.

The bill also creates a public-facing website “with real-time information on pipeline safety data, including reportable safety events, gas leak information, compliance actions, inspection records, and instructions on how to access the PUC’s mapping data.”

“The sections of this bill work to improve public safety statewide, provide transparency, accountability, and compliance enforcement within our state government,” Story said.

Brown said the bill will protect the well-being of Colorado communities.

“We can't in good conscience continue to allow pipeline operators to violate the very laws designed to protect public health and safety,” said Brown.

Mark and Julie Nygren testified in support of the bill.

The Weld County couple says they have been living through a nightmare over the last several years because of a leaking gas line.

“Our life has been put on hold. It'll be five years here in a couple of weeks,” said Julie Nygren.

In 2019, they discovered the leaking gas line across the road from their house in Johnstown.

“It was flowing down the ditch,” said Julie Nygren. “A green fluid that kind of had vapor or smoke coming from it.”

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Julie and Mark Nygren testified before the House Energy and Environment Committee in support of HB24-1357.

After doing vapor testing, they discovered the problem was much closer than they thought.

"It was all around and under our home,” said Mark Nygren.

The Nygrens, who are sugar beet farmers, say they had to leave their home immediately due to the level of gas detected.

“Right now, we're farming from a distance and living in town in a rental house,” said Julie Nygren.

They say the most surprising thing they’ve learned from their experience is that regulators tasked with monitoring pipelines are falling short.

“There are rules and regulations there, but they have not been enforced,” said Mark Nygren.

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In 2019, the Nygrens discovered a leaking gas line across the road from their house in Johnstown.

The oil and gas industry opposes the legislation by Brown and Story.

Representatives of the industry said safety improvements are already being made and said much of the bill is unnecessary.

“Other than some specific items required for the proposed publicly facing website, this bill really does not address the state audit directly,” said Bill Groffy with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “Instead, it unnecessarily dictates a leak detection technology rulemaking that is well underway at the federal level through PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration). On top of that, the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) has already initiated a stakeholder process of its own to conduct a leak detection technology rulemaking this year as well.”

The Nygrens hope the bill will pass and prevent others from experiencing what they have.

“We just want common-sense legislation, common-sense rules and regulations that keep people safe,” said Julie Nygren.

The Energy and Environment Committee laid the bill over, meaning it will be brought back up at a later date.

The Nygrens sued the company they say owns the pipeline, DCP Midstream.

DCP Midstream declined to provide a comment for this story.

Colorado lawmakers seek to reinforce pipeline regulations, safety requirements