Questions abound after oil company's decision to shutter wells near site of Firestone home explosion

Posted at 10:49 AM, Apr 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-28 00:54:22-04

DENVER – Seven active oil and gas wells were shut down in the Firestone neighborhood where a house exploded during a water heater installation on April 17, killing two, state oil and gas officials said Thursday.

The information came as the head of Colorado’s oil and gas commission held a news conference Thursday morning to give more insight into the state’s involvement in the ongoing investigation into the explosion, that led one of the state’s top energy companies to shutter 3,000 wells on Wednesday.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director Matt Lepore discussed details on the April 17 explosion, which killed brothers-in-law Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin, at an 11 a.m. news conference.

(Watch the full news conference in the player below or by clicking here.)

On Wednesday, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation said it was stopping production on 3,000 vertical oil wells in the area – one of which units, drilled by a previous operator in 1993, sits just 178 feet from the home that exploded.

The company says the wells would be closed out of an abundance of caution. But Denver7 learned Thursdsay that the company started quietly shuttering the wells right after the explosion happened.

"The wells will remain shut in until the company's field personnel can conduct additional inspections and testing of the associated equipment, such as facilities and underground lines associated with each wellhead," a Wednesday release by Anadarko read.

Shuttering the wells and investigating is expected to take roughly between two to four weeks, costing the company about 13,000 barrels of oil per day. 

New details about well, others in state released by Colorado authorities

Seven of the 3,000 shuttered wells are in the neighborhood where the explosion happened, but no well has been directly linked to the explosion at this time.

COGCC says the well closest to the house was first drilled in 1993 and produces mostly gas, but some oil. It has changed hands between several companies over the years and was acquired by Anadarko in 2014.

The state says the well closest to the home that exploded was last inspected in August 2014. It also said air and soil tests had been done that found no outlying gasses in the neighborhood.

It also said it did not order Anadarko to shutter its wells, and that it would not be requiring other operators to shut in their wells for now.

The COGCC added that it does not regulate the distance from wells in which homes are allowed to be built, and that oil and gas companies that want to drill horizontally have to find vertical wells that might have been abandoned.

Setback requirements in Colorado mean that newly built wells have to be built between 500 and 1,000 feet away from residences.

State authorities also detailed two prior explosions involving gasses in the state: One that happened in April 2007 at an under-construction house in Las Animas County, which was caused by an improperly plugged coalbed methane well; and another that happened in La Plata County in February 2005, when a trailer home exploded. Investigators found that methane gas in a coal seam likely traveled through an old well that was buried under the house.

The ongoing investigation into the explosion is being headed by the Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District, which is being assisted by the COGCC.

A CU-Denver researcher found in a 2016 report that there were about 6,000 homes in Colorado within 300 feet of an oil or gas well.

Denver7 was on the scene in Firestone as letters were delivered to homeowners, alerting them of additional testing in the area.

While the cause of the blast is still under investigation, homeowners are concerned about the impact on their property value.

“How far is it going to tank? Property home values have been going up. Is that going to do something to my value?” pondered Anna Altman, who has lived in the area since 2005.

As Coloradans build and buy homes in previously-untouched areas, experts stress the importance of knowing the risks.

“The biggest question you should be asking yourself isn’t just what’s my floor plan,” said Carole Walker, of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association. “You should be thinking about what your risks are associated with purchasing that home, and it could be the land itself,” she said.

MAP: Search if your home is near an oil well

The Boulder Board of County Commissioners on Thursday also called for all oil and gas operators in the county to shut in their vertical wells across the county.

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