Despite suggestions that plumbing work may have led to last week’s fatal house explosion in Firestone, it looks as though a leak related to a nearby gas well may have been the cause.
In a statement this afternoon, oil and gas giant Anadarko acknowledged that it operates a vertical well that’s about 200 feet from the newly built house on Twilight Avenue that exploded April 17, killing brothers-in-law Mark Martinez and Joseph William Irwin III, both 42, and severely injuring Erin Martinez, Mark’s wife. A GoFundMe page has been created for the family.
The Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) are investigating the cause of the blast.
A source has told The Independent that personnel and trucks bearing Anadarko’s logo responded soon after the explosion, and that company personnel at and near the scene over the following days came in unmarked vehicles and clothes. They were apparently paying special attention to a feeder line that may have been severed near the home.
Anadarko spokesman John Christiansen wouldn’t respond to that report, nor to questions on other aspects of his company’s possible involvement.
“There’s a lot that we don’t know and I’m not going to comment other than what’s in the press release,” said Christensen, who’s based in Texas but is in Colorado this week.
The company says the nearby vertical well was drilled in 1993 by what it noted in its statement was “a previous operator.” (Editor’s note: Oil and gas formations are accessed worldwide by drilling vertical, horizontal or multi-lateral wells.)
As a result of the explosion, Anadarko has shut down some 3,000 wells in northern Colorado in what it calls “an abundance of caution.”
Firestone is in Weld County, about 30 miles north of Denver. Housing tracts are being built in on the heavily-drilled land there.
News stories after the explosion reported that Irwin, a master plumber, was helping Mark Martinez install a hot water heater, apparently at or near the time of the explosion. The insinuation was that their work may have led to their deaths.
But that narrative sounded immediately curious to those who knew Irwin and his work, and became less plausible when Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission passed the investigation on to the COGCC, which regulates the oil and gas industry.
In a statement, the COGCC said that it has been investigating the incident since Friday, April 18. The investigation includes “directing environmental sampling and inspecting oil and gas wells in the vicinity, including an Anadarko oil and gas operation located approximately 170 feet southeast of the property, and reviewing their history.” The Commission says it is also evaluating additional steps to review activities in the region.
The 170-foot distance the COGCC cited is less than the 200-foot estimate Anadarko cited in its statement.
“While the well in the vicinity is one aspect of the investigation, this is a complex investigation and the origin and cause of the fire have not been determined,” Theodore Poszywak, Firestone’s fire chief, said in a statement that indicated his department is continuing to gather and analyze evidence to determine the cause of the blast. The department says it will release the findings to the public “without delay” when they are complete.
We will update this story when more information becomes available.
If you have information about the Firestone explosion, please email Colorado Independent editor Susan Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tina Griego and Kelsey Ray contributed to this report.
Featured image by Dennis Herrera.