Small Gas Pipeline Blamed for Fatal Colorado Home Explosion

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FIRESTONE, Colo. (AP) — A home explosion that killed two people was caused by unrefined natural gas that was leaking from a small abandoned pipeline from a nearby well, fire officials said.

The April 17 explosion in Firestone about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Denver happened when the odorless gas in the old line leaked into the soil and made its way into the home’s basement, Ted Poszywak, chief of the Frederick-Firestone fire department, said Tuesday.

Investigators do not know how or when the small pipe was cut. The house was within 200 feet (60 meters) of the well, and the pipeline was buried about 7 feet (2.1 meters) underground.

The well was drilled in 1993 and is owned by Anadarko Petroleum. Investigators are still trying to determine who is responsible for the abandoned line.

Anadarko and Great Western Oil & Gas said last week they would shut down and inspect more than 3,060 similar wells as a precaution during the investigation.

State records show the well near the home that exploded was shut down all of last year and resumed production in January, although the records do not show the reasons. Anadarko has previously declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

The well was last inspected in 2014 and received a “satisfactory” rating.

Mark Martinez and Joseph William Irwin III were killed in the blast and resulting fire. Erin Martinez, who was married to Mark Martinez, was badly burned. Irwin was her brother.

Anadarko and Great Western’s actions prompted nearby Boulder County to ask energy companies to shut down and inspect all vertical wells there, about 300 total. Adams County, which is just south of Firestone, also asked oil and gas companies to inspect vertical wells near occupied buildings, but the county did not call for any wells to be shut down. It wasn’t known if any operators complied.

The proximity of subdivisions and wells is a source of contention in Colorado, where fast-growing cities sometimes overlap with lucrative oil and gas fields.

Conflicts have generated lawsuits and attempts to overhaul state rules. The Legislature killed a proposal this year that would have increased the minimum distance between schools and new oil and gas facilities.

The state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulates the distance between new oil and gas wells from existing structures, but local governments set the rules for the distance between new homes and existing wells. In Firestone, the minimum distance is 150 feet.

The commission said last week it tested air samples in the neighborhood but found no evidence of leaking gas. The commission also planned to test the soil for evidence of underground leaks. A commission spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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