Investigators recently announced that a deadly April 17 explosion in Firestone, Colorado was caused by an abandoned leaking pipeline that was still connected to a natural gas well owned by Anadarko Petroleum.
The 1-inch pipeline was cut about 10 feet from the recently-built home where two men died and one woman and her son were severely injured, though it’s unclear why the flow line was cut off, left uncapped, and still connected to the well. Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District chief Ted Poszywak noted that the pre-refined gas was not odorized for safety, and seeped unnoticed from the cut-off line directly into the home. “Those inside the home would not have smelled it,” he said.
Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joseph William Irwin III, both 42, were killed in the explosion. Mark’s wife, Erin Martinez, was injured as well their 11-year-old son.
The well was less than 200 feet from the Martinez’ home. However, Poszywak stressed that it was not the well’s proximity to the home that caused the explosion, but that the pipeline leading to the well head caused a methane buildup that led to the explosion. He said no nearby homes are in any danger.
According to the Associated Press, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director Matt Lepore said that the flow line was cleanly cut and thus could have been chopped by construction equipment while new houses was being built. Lepore said that a line taken out of service should be disconnected and sealed at both ends and that all flammable gas should be removed; regulators do not yet know whether the line had never been disconnected from the well, or if it had been disconnected but later reconnected for some reason.
Anadarko, Colorado’s largest oil and gas producer, has turned off over 3,000 wells following the explosion and said it is cooperating with investigators.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has ordered inspections of all similar gas lines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings. He declared that energy companies must ensure that flow lines no longer in use are marked and capped, and that abandoned flow lines cut off underground are sealed off.
“Public safety is paramount,” Hickenlooper said. “We are assessing whether these operations were conducted in compliance with state law and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s (COGCC) rules.”
The tragedy has inspired fierce outcry from locals, anti-fracking activists, and environmental groups, who are calling on state regulators to impose tighter setback requirements. The state currently imposes a 500-foot setback between new oil and gas wells and existing homes. However, local governments decide how close new homes can be built to existing wells. The house that burned in Firestone was built 178 feet away from the existing well: the towns’ minimum standard was set at 150 feet.
“Our families’ safety and security must be our highest priority—not corporate polluters’ profits,” Jim Alexee, director of the Colorado Sierra Club said. “Immediate action must be taken, and we support Governor Hickenlooper’s directive to revisit the integrity of all oil and gas lines within 1000 feet of occupied buildings.” Just a week before the fatal Firestone explosion, state lawmakers killed a setback rule bill that would have stopped oil and gas producers from drilling within 1,000 feet of school property.
In March, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s oil and gas commission must balance the regulation of oil and gas operations with protections for public health, the environment, and wildlife. in response, the Sierra Club called on the Colorado Oil & Gas Commission to halt the processing of all permits not yet approved or applied for.
“Earlier this month, the Colorado legislature voted against a bill that would have moved new drilling operations at least 1,000 feet away from school playgrounds,” Alexee said. “I call on our leaders to reconsider safe, common sense protections that will put the health and safety of Coloradans first.”
Chow, Lorraine. “Pipeline Leak Caused Deadly Colorado House Explosion.” EcoWatch. 3 May 2017.
PC: E&E News.