Firestone explosion survivor continues to fight for change; oil and gas company could be fined

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FIRESTONE, Colo. -- The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission may impose a fine on the oil and gas company that owned the infrastructure involved in a deadly 2017 Firestone house explosion linked to an improperly abandoned and severed pipeline.

“We’ve been doing work on this and I think we will get to a point when we can finalize our (enforcement action called a Notice of Alleged Violation) soon,” said Jeff Robbins, the director of COGCC.

Although the explosion occurred two-and-a-half years ago, Robbins could not say exactly which rules the commission believes the oil and gas company violated. A company called Occidental took over operations for a previous oil and gas company, Anadarko, in August.

“We are still in the process of determining the correctness of what the violations are, and we are going to get that right, and we are going to get that out here soon,” Robbins said.

He announced the pending enforcement action during his director’s report at a COGCC hearing Wednesday morning, on the heels of the release of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigative report about the explosion.

“We wanted to await the finalization of the NTSB report before we went forward and finalized the work that we were doing,” Robbins said.

The NTSB report found the explosion was caused by a leak in an improperly abandoned pipeline that was most likely severed during the construction of the house.

“I think the report doesn’t have anything in it that we didn’t already know,” said Erin Martinez, a survivor of the blast.

Her husband, Mark Martinez, and her brother, Joey Irwin, were killed.

“We were just hoping the report would have some recommendations in it that would help keep the rest of the world safe. You know, they are the safety board for a reason,” she said. “That’s the disappointing part of the report."

Martinez told the FOX31 Problem Solvers she underwent 28 surgeries after she suffered significant burns during the blast.

“I’m hanging in there and like I’ve said several times, I’m just trying to prevent this from happening to anybody else. And I really think that’s what Mark and Joey would want,” she said.

Martinez has been pushing for safety enhancements in the industry and has been keeping tabs on new regulations and rules being implemented by the state.

Oct. 31, 2019 is the deadline for oil and gas companies to supply information to the state about the start and end points of their flowlines. The commission will also consider requiring more specific information about the locations of the pipelines so a public map can eventually be distributed.

“The current rules require a certain sort of information from point A to point B without the actual location of the flowlines. The rules that we’re contemplating in November will actually have specific map locations and it’s yet to be determined what that ultimately looks like… but that’s the recommendation of staff is that we have a greater level of mapping,” said Robbins.

Martinez, who unknowingly moved into a new home situated near oil and gas infrastructure, said what is most important when collecting location information is that the information is accurate.

“I was told that there was no gas and oil infrastructure anywhere around it,” she said. “And about six months later after we moved in, we found out there was a plugged and abandoned well in this neighbor over here’s back yard. And we were told there was nothing in the vicinity of our house, and we were basing this on the information that was given to the COGCC and the information that was given to the town, and it wasn’t accurate.”

Meanwhile, the mother and father of Martinez’s husband, Mark, said they cannot bear to thoroughly read the new federal report that was released by the NTSB.

“I think eventually, of course, I’m going to want to read it thoroughly. And I’m sure I probably will have lots of questions, doubts, concerns. But at this point, as a mother, all I can think about is Mark,” said Cindy Martinez, Mark’s mother.

“Let’s just hope that (the NTSB) reports can help eliminate any other tragedies like this,” said Max Martinez, Mark’s father.

The two said the grief of losing their only son has weighed heavily on them daily.

“Mark had a light with him that sparkled everybody,” Cindy Martinez said. “I know it probably sounds like an everyday household, but he did have a light. And he’s leaving a legacy that will carry with us -- our little household -- forever. We cry every day and we always will.”

“It was a wonderful life with Mark,” said Max Martinez. “It was great… Mark was a wonderful guy. He had so many friends.”

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