The Federal Firestone Explosion Report Is Delayed. The Shutdown Is One Reason Why

March 1, 2019
Photo: Firestone Anniversary Anadarko Flowline Flag (Hood)
Anadarko flowline markers appear in the Oak Meadows subdivision where a home exploded April 17 2017. Since then state regulators enacted stricter requirements for oil companies to report to the state’s 811 Call Before You Dig system.

The National Transportation Safety Board said its final investigation report into the Firestone home explosion has been delayed.

It won’t be released until this summer at the earliest, nearly two years after the fatal explosion. Results were originally projected for 12 to 18 months after the spring 2017 explosion.

“We follow the facts wherever they go. So it’s difficult to give precise timelines on specific investigations,” NTSB spokesperson Eric Weiss said. “We try to get them done as quickly as possible. But not at the cost of cutting back our investigations.”

On April 17, 2017 two men were killed and two others were injured when a Firestone home exploded. Local fire authorities later concluded in their own investigation that a flowline owned by Anadarko Petroleum was improperly abandoned, and wasn’t capped properly.

The pending National Transportation Safety Board investigation has prevented Anadarko and local fire authorities from discussing the issue. The state regulatory agency, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, has not issued any fines related to Firestone because it’s waiting to see the federal report.

National transportation officials say there were two factors that have delayed the Firestone investigation: the lead federal investigator retired, and the 35-day partial government shutdown delayed work for Firestone, among other cases.

“The government shutdown did have an impact on all our investigations,” Weiss said.

Since the Firestone home explosion, Anadarko reached a settlement with the families impacted by the blast. Colorado regulators completed a rulemaking to improve flowline abandonment regulations. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper also issued an executive order to speed the clean-up of abandoned wells.  

But those reforms didn’t go far enough for environmental advocates, who mounted a failed statewide ballot campaign in 2018.

This year the fight turns to the state legislature. On Thursday Erin Martinez, whose husband and brother died in the Firestone home explosion, stood alongside Gov. Jared Polis announcing work on new oil and gas legislation. The bill will tackle multiple issues including local control, and underground oil and gas line mapping.

“My home and family were destroyed because my home was next to a leaking flowline that had been left connected to the well,” Martinez said. “We need to have accuracy on oil and gas infrastructure and this needs to be publicly available.”

The NTSB is looking at releasing results this summer “or possibly later,” Weiss said, depending on how the final days of the investigation play out.

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