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FOX31 investigation: pipelines carry hazardous liquids underneath Colorado neighborhood

Twice in the past month, powerful explosions have leveled homes and damaged neighboring buildings in Colorado and Indiana.

It appears natural gas played roles in both of these incidents.

But there’s something else buried underground across Colorado that could be even more dangerous: Thousands of pipelines carrying large amounts of hazardous liquid, including jet fuel and gasoline.

They’re called hazardous liquid transmission lines, they are used to transport huge amounts of fuel from state to state, and there are Two of them running right through the center of the “Rolling Hills” subdivision in Johnstown, Colorado.

Resident, Charlie Vaden fears for the safety of the community, “I’m worried about everyone’s lives really,” he said.

The pipelines are owned by Sinclair. One of them was built back in 1963. It transports 20,000 gallons of hazardous fuel from a Wyoming refinery to the Denver metro area every day.

Now Sinclair is building a second pipeline parallel to the first and it plans to increase the amount of fuel running through the community.

Vaden is concerned because the pipelines run right through the middle of the neighborhood, close to homes, a playground and a bus stop for children.

Jeff Farrells with the Pipeline Association for Public Awareness said a pipeline leak in the Weld county subdivision could be devastating. “The majority of the time pipelines leak because somebody has inadvertently dug into it.” He said that’s why gas and oil companies try to keep homes as far away from their pipelines as possible.

Sinclair was so concerned about homes being built too close to their pipeline, the company sent out a safety brochure that says “no occupied dwellings within 100 feet.” The diagram shows 50 feet on each side.

But some homes were built as close as 24 feet away.

Sinclair refused our request for an interview, but sent us a statement which says in part, “’…our pipeline was originally installed in 1963 in what was then primarily agricultural land…”

Still, Vaden doesn’t fault Sinclair, “The pipeline had a right to be there, they were in there 50 years ago.” Instead he blames Rolling Hills Developer Bruce Gilliam who built the homes much closer to the pipelines than Sinclair recommended and the town that allowed him to do it.

Gilliam also refused our repeated requests for an interview. He referred us to town planner, John Franklin.

Franklin told us the previous town planner approved the development back in 1997. He said town planners are in a difficult position when it comes to approving developments near pipelines because there are no local, state or federal regulations that dictate how close you can build to them.

Still, he admits he would not approve the development today, “We would pay a lot of attention to the pipeline companies’ recommendations.”

Farrells told us pipeline accidents are rare, and they are a safer way to transport large amounts of fuel than the alternative. “We would have to put on the highways over 100,000 tanker trucks just to move the products that we use every day.”

Check for Pipelines in Your Neighborhood

To find the closest pipeline to your home click on this map at this link: National Pipeline Mapping System and follow the detailed instructions below.

This system can be used by the public to locate pipelines near a specific address. The map shows gas transmission pipelines and hazardous liquid lines. It does not show distribution pipelines, such as lines which deliver gas to your home. Therefore, not all pipelines are visible for public viewing.

To use the system, click on the NPMS Public Map Viewer bar located on the upper right hand side of the page.

From the drop down menu, select a state. Once a state is selected, another drop down menu will provide all the state’s counties.  Select a county to search.

Once those selections are made, a map will display.

To search a specific address, go to the drop down menu that says “View pipeline by” and click on the street address option.

Type in the address including the zip code. It will not search without a zip code.

The system will display a map showing pipelines near the address searched.

On the left hand side of the map, you can click on what type of pipeline you want displayed on the map.

Click on the map to find out who operates the pipeline, their contact information and if the line is in service.

The map offers street or aerial views.  Also, you can use the map to measure the distance from an address to the pipeline. The map includes a security feature and if you zoom in too close, the pipelines on the map will disappear.