In wake of fatal house explosion, Gov. John Hickenlooper orders review of all oil, gas operations |

In wake of fatal house explosion, Gov. John Hickenlooper orders review of all oil, gas operations

A wellhead is seen on Wednesday in a fenced-off area near a house that was destroyed in a deadly explosion in Firestone on April 17. Anadarko Petroleum said Wednesday it operated a well about 200 feet from the house in Firestone. The company didn't say whether the well was believed to be a factor in the explosion.
Matthew Jonas / The Daily Times Call

Investigators have determined that the origin and cause of the explosion that destroyed a home April 17 was gas that entered the home as a result of an abandoned flow line attached to an oil and gas well near the home.

The flow line, while abandoned, had not been disconnected from the wellhead and capped, according to a news release from the Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District.

“Investigators found the lines terminated 6 feet from the foundation, and lines had been cut all the way through. The lines had been abandoned. … Both lines were traced back to the well head, where a two-inch line was disconnected and capped, but a one-inch line was connected. This was on the on position until turned off (after the explosion),” Fire Chief Ted Poszywak said at a news conference in Frederick on Tuesday.

The line started leaking when the well head, which had been shut in for the entirety of 2016, was turned back on Jan. 28; so it took basically four months to saturate the soil, and seep into the home through the sump pump and something called “French drains.” The homeowners would have not known this gas was filling the basement because it had not been treated with the chemical that caused the rotten egg smell.

Officials also determined that the flow line was controlled with the shut in, or ceasing of production of the well as a precaution taken on April 17 as part of initial response measures, and that no additional contamination or danger exists to neighboring homes, the release stated.

Now that the origin and cause has been determined, the investigation will be turned over to the Firestone Police Department for the next phase of the investigation, which is an official death investigation. Upon completion of that phase, the Firestone Police Department will turn the matter over to the Weld County District Attorney’s Office, according to the release.

In the wake of the investigation, Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered a statewide review of existing oil and gas operations.

“Public safety is paramount,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “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 directive requires oil and gas operators statewide to undertake the following actions:

» Inspect and pressure test existing oil and gas flow lines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings to ensure integrity;

» Ensure that any lines that are not in use are properly marked and capped;

» Ensure all abandoned lines are cut below the surface and sealed.

Inspections of existing flow lines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings must occur within 30 days and be tested for integrity within 60 days. Lines that have been either abandoned or are not in use must be inspected within 30 days and abandoned under current rules within 60 days, the release stated.

The two-year-old home at 6312 Twilight Ave. exploded April 17, killing two men who were in the basement. Mark Joseph Martinez and Joseph William Irwin III, both 42, died. Erin Martinez was sent to the hospital in critical condition, and a child also was injured.

The house was within 200 feet of a well, but investigators haven’t yet said whether the well was involved.

State regulators planned to test the soil for evidence of underground leaks from the well but haven’t released the results.

The well was drilled in 1993 and the house and others nearby were built later.

The state regulates the distance between new wells and existing homes, but local governments control how close new houses can be built to existing wells. In Firestone, the requirement is 150 feet.

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