Oil And Gas Regulators Finalize $18.25M Fine For Deadly Firestone Explosion

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. 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.

In a somber virtual meeting, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission unanimously voted to approve more than $18 million in fines against Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum linked to the deadly Firestone home explosion in 2017.

“The prevention of a future tragedy is a great way to honor both Mark and Joey,” said Erin Martinez, who lost her husband Mark Martinez and brother Joey Irwin in the Firestone home explosion. “This penalty must set a precedent that safety needs to be a top priority.” 

In 2017, investigators found a disused flowline owned by Kerr-McGee was severed at some point as the development of homes inched ever closer to the well. The flowline, however, had not been disconnected from the wellhead and capped, which allowed gas to escape when the well was turned back on.

“Kerr-McGee remains committed to doing its part to make sure that something like this never happens again,” said Mark Matthews, an attorney for the energy exploration company. “It’s our hope that the extensive safety efforts [Kerr-McGee] has taken over the past three years and the penalty now being paid will help prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.”

The COGCC will create the Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin Memorial Public Projects Fund, which will dispense the levied $18.25 million fine. Projects include:

  • $2 million for aerial surveys of the Denver-Julesburg Basin to identify and reduce methane leaks from flowlines and production facilities.
  • $2.1 million to acquire and staff a state mobile air-monitoring van to measure pollutants and leaks on the ground.
  • $2 million to fund two years of research and development of satellite and remote sensing technology to help the state improve monitoring and inspections.
  • $1.1 million to purchase nine optical gas imaging cameras for the state.
  • $1.1 million to fund research at Colorado State University’s Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center.
  • $300,000 to update state gas detection and metering equipment.
  • $42,000 to acquire remote methane leak detectors for the state. 
  • $50,000 to reimburse the Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District for legal expenses related to the Firestone investigation.

In total, the COGCC fined Kerr-McGee for four violations. Those included allowing gas to flow through a severed line, not testing the flowline as per state requirements, not verifying that the flowline was connected to production equipment and connecting a severed line to a wellhead. The COGCC cited 365 days of violation related to the four offenses.