Several years, and investigations, after an April 2017 explosion destroyed a home and killed two in the town of Firestone, Colorado regulators have decided on a punishment. State regulators announced Colorado's largest enforcement penalty they've ever sought against an oil and gas company on Thursday.
The Colorado Conservation Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will seek $18.25 million from Kerr McGee, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum. The Houston-based company merged with Anadarko Petroleum in August of 2019.
“On April 17, 2017, an unthinkable tragedy happened in Firestone that forever changed the lives of the Martinez family. Our hearts still grieve for Erin Martinez’s family members who lost their lives,” COGCC Director Jeff Robbins said in a statement.
The potential fine is 11 times larger than the next largest penalty--a $1.6 million violation levied against Nobel Energy in 2018. Occidental Petroleum has not formally responded to the notice of the alleged violation.
The explosion occurred due to the ignition of gas from a severed gas line then owned by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. Construction crews likely cut the line while building the home. Robbins said Anadarko is at fault because it allowed gas through the severed pipeline.
The resulting blast killed Erin Martinez's husband, Mark Martinez, and her brother, Joey Irwin. The pair were installing a water heater in the basement at the time.
Martinez suffered severe burns from the explosion. She couldn't attend the announcement because she is currently recovering from back-to-back surgeries related to the accident. She did release a statement following the announcement.
"Almost three years later there is finally some accountability. I am encouraged to see the COGCC enact its new role to protect the public health and today’s action sends a message that Colorado won’t tolerate risky, negligent behavior that endangers our families’ ability to live safely in our own homes," Martinez wrote.
COGCC director Jeff Robbins said a majority of the penality will be used to prevent similar tragedies. Those special projects include aerial surveys to detect leaks from pipelines, a new air monitoring van and cameras capable of detecting leaks.
He added the penalty is fair and appropriate.
"We know it won't ever mean the Martinez family will have their loved ones returned, but with today's decision we are using every tool possible to avoid any future tragedy," he said.
The explosion destroyed the home and another house next door was scorched by fire. Today, both lots on Twilight Avenue have been cleared and the faulted well closed. No trace of it remains above ground.
The next step will involve an enforcement process where the company will answer before the commission in a special hearing that will be held on April 6, 2020.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect date for the COGCC's special hearing.