Erin Martinez Waited Years For The Federal Report On Why Her Home Exploded. Now That It’s Out, She’s Disappointed

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<p>Hart Van Denburg/CPR News</p>
<p>Erin Martinez at the state Capitol Monday March 4, 2019.</p>

For two and a half years, Erin Martinez waited for the federal government to finish their investigation into what caused the home explosion that killed her husband and brother.

The National Transportation and Safety Board sent an investigator to Firestone soon after the 2017 incident. Martinez said the agency promised a thorough report on what happened, why it happened and how it could be prevented in the future. 

It’s that last part she said was missing. 

“There are no recommendations on how we can keep these things from happening again,” she said

After the NTSB released its report on Tuesday, she told CPR’s Ryan Warner she wasn’t surprised by the results, which largely confirmed the conclusions of earlier investigations. She was disappointed by the lack of any advice for policymakers or the oil and gas industry. 

The 2017 blast killed Martinez’s husband, Mark Martinez, and her brother, Joey Irwin, who were in the basement installing a water heater at the time. Martinez herself was thrown by the explosion. She has said the burns she suffered will never totally heal. 

The investigation traced the explosion to improperly abandoned flowlines owned by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. It also said local authorities’ decisions contributed to the accident since they allowed the construction of homes in the area without complete documentation of the locations of the lines. The authors concluded builders most likely severed the lines in 2015. 

Much of the report focuses on Patina Oil and Gas Corporation, which didn’t follow state requirements when it abandoned the lines connected to a nearby well in 1999. The well was sold and then sold again to Anadarko in 2013.

Anadarko has since been purchased by Occidental Petroleum.

Martinez said she wished the report analyzed why no one noticed problems with the well and the attached lines as they changed hands. She’s currently pushing Colorado oil and gas regulators to require an inspection any time a well changes ownership. 

While Anadarko did reach a legal settlement with the families of the two men killed in the incident, the company has declined to comment in public without results from the NTSB. The lack of public accountability has frustrated Martinez. 

Following the release of the report, Occidental sent a statement to CPR saying it respects and appreciates the NTSB’s review of the incident. 

“We take the findings very seriously, and as part of our commitment to safety, we continually review our processes and procedures,” wrote a spokesperson. “We are mindful of the events of April 17, 2017, every day, and our thoughts continue to be with the families, friends and communities affected by this tragedy.”

After the accident, the company shut down thousands of wells for additional inspections.

Even before the report came out, Martinez pushed for regulatory changes of the oil and gas industry. She lent her story to the Democratic effort to pass SB-181 at the Colorado legislature earlier this year. The new law made health and safety the top priority for state regulators and gave local communities more control over the drilling process. 

The Colorado Oil And Gas Conservation Commission is now rewriting industry rules for underground oil and gas lines in light of the new legislation. Martinez has taken an active role in the process. Besides new rules for transferring ownership, she also thinks the commission should require the removal of abandoned flowlines. 

“If those are removed from the ground, it’s pretty hard for a line to be improperly abandoned and blow up another home,” she said. 

She said all of her efforts are a fight to prevent another incident like what happened in Firestone. 

“It'd be hugely important to Mark and Joey that I took the necessary steps to make sure that this didn't happen to anyone again,” she said. 

Since the explosion, the site of the home has become a vacant lot. Martinez is helping to turn the location into a memorial park. She hopes to call it Two Hunters Park in memory of her late brother and husband’s favorite shared hobby.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
In the fall of 2019, there are very few signs remaining of the home that exploded in 2017 on Twilight Avenue in the Oak Meadows subdivision of Firestone. The blast was blamed on a leaking, disused gas flowline owned by the former Anadarko Petroleum. These stones mark its spot. Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joe Irwin, both 42 years old, were killed in the Firestone blast. Martinez’ wife Erin was seriously injured.