Gov. Hickenlooper after Firestone explosion: We're going to make sure every flowline is inspected

Posted at 5:01 PM, May 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-04 01:22:07-04

DENVER – Colorado governor John Hickenlooper on Wednesday vowed to make sure every gas flowline in the state is inspected to prevent another tragedy like the one in Firestone, where two people died and one was severely burned following a home explosion nearly three weeks ago.

“This is by any measure a tragedy of immense intensity,” said Hickenlooper during a press conference at the State Capitol. “It’s unthinkable, by any capacity of the imagination,” he said regarding the circumstances in which the explosion took place.

Hickenlooper vowed to have all flowlines inspected by oil and gas company officials so that no well goes unchecked, but added it will take some time to accomplish the task.

“The goal here is to move as quickly as we possibly can and make sure that we can reassure people that their homes are safe,” he said. “No one likes to move that fast. It means overtime, it’s expensive, but I think everyone recognizes the severity of the situation.”

Hickenlooper’s announcement came a day after officials said the cause of the explosion was a non-odorized methane gas that filtered into the home through a French Drain and Sump Pit due to a cut, abandoned gas flowline from an abandoned well nearby. Flow to that line resumed in January of this year, according to officials.

The line in question is a one-inch line that ran about six feet from the home’s foundation.

Flow from the line stopped when Anadarko Petroleum Company shut down all of its wells across the state following the station.

But it's still unclear which company was responsible for the well when it should have been capped and wasn't. Several of the wells in the area, including one just 178 feet from the house that exploded that has been determined not to be faulty, have changed hands several times over the past two decades.

“I think we’re going to reevaluate our entire inspection process and try to look at, what should an inspector have noticed? Should we require greater clarity at a wellhead? Where do the flowlines go? So that when an inspector comes on behalf on the state, they can clearly say, ‘Huh. This shouldn’t be turned on.'” Hickenlooper said.  

Officials described the explosion on April 17 as a “sudden and violent explosion” as the gas and air mixture reached the needed mix for the deadly chemical reaction to occur.

Two brothers-in-law, Joey Irwin and Mark Martinez, were killed in the explosion, which happened while they were working to install a new water heater. Erin Martinez, an area science teacher, was severely burned in the explosion.

Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District Chief Theodore Poszywak said Tuesday that Martinez and Irwin did nothing criminal or improper while installing the heater.

Officials are now turning the investigation over to the Firestone Police Department for an official death investigation, which will eventually be turned over to the Weld County District Attorney’s Office to determine whether or not criminal charges will be field.

Hickenlooper said his number one priority was to direct all oil and gas operators in the state to inspect and pressure test all existing oil and gas flowlines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings; to be sure any lines not currently in use are properly marked and capped; and to ensure all abandoned lines are cut below the surface and sealed.

All existing flowline inspections must be completed within 30 days and tested for integrity within 60. Abandoned lines have to be inspected within 30 days and abandoned within 60.

“It’s my belief that this is a unique event," Hickenlooper said during his closing remarks, adding state officials will be “doing everything we can to find every flowline and make sure every single flowline is capped.”

Hickenlooper also said he expects this tragedy to bring back up the set back debate. Right now, how far homes can be built next to existing wells falls under local jurisdictions. 

"[We have] a number of counties and municipalities that are going to address that," he said. 

On Wednesday afternoon, officials from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association sent a statement supporting the governor's call to have all flowlines inspected, noting many of their operators have begun to take initial steps to begin re-inspection and testing.

"It is critical that Coloradans feel safe with oil and gas development in our state, and we are committed to doing our part to help build trust with residents and communities." 

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