Governor Calls For Statewide Inspection Of Oil And Gas Wells After House Explosion

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Photo: Firestone House Explosion - TimesCall
Investigators stand by as machines remove debris from the burned remains of a house on the 6300 Block of Twilight Avenue in Firestone, April 18, 2017.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday called for a statewide review of oil and gas operations in Colorado.

The directive came after fire officials revealed the origin of a deadly explosion in Firestone to be unrefined, non-odorized gas that had seeped from an abandoned gas flowline.

Under the governor's order, oil and gas operators must inspect existing oil and gas flowlines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings within 30 days and pressure-test them within 60 days. Abandoned lines and those not in use must be inspected within 30 days.

"We want a hard look at all of this going forward," Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director Matt Lepore said at a press conference. The COGCC has conducted its own, separate investigation, Lepore said.

The Frederick-Firestone Protection District found that a flowline near the home in Firestone, which had been cut, was still connected to a nearby well. It was likely severed during construction of the subdivision, Lepore said.

Ted Poszywak, the chief of the Frederick-Firestone Protection District, said the proximity of the well to the home was not a "contributing cause" to the explosion.

"It was the pipeline, rather than the well head that caused the buildup of methane that led to the explosion," Poszywak said.

Officials reiterated that this was a localized incident and there was no threat to the surrounding community. Air monitoring was started almost immediately following the explosion.

Poszywak, Chief Frederick-Firestone Fire: verified no active contamination. Gas bled off well head through abandoned line and into home.

When the abandoned gas line became the focus of the investigation, officials found the line was still connected. Bled-off gas from the well had saturated the ground near the home’s foundation, eventually entering the basement. The April 17 explosion killed Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joe Irwin, who were in the basement. Erin Martinez was severely injured and remains in the hospital.

The explosion prompted Anadarko Petroleum, the state’s largest oil driller and the operator of the well in question, to temporarily shut down 3,000 wells in northeast Colorado out of an “abundance of caution.” Great Western Oil & Gas also shut down wells that fed gas lines that were within 250 feet of buildings.

In a statement Tuesday, Anadarko's Chairman, President, and CEO Al Walker offered his condolences to the victims' families and said the company would continue to "cooperate fully with all ongoing investigations."

The wellhead near the home was drilled by another company in 1993 before Anadarko acquired it in 2014, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.