State considers new pipeline rules after fatal blast in Firestone

Erin Martinez

GREELEY, Colo. — A survivor of a deadly home explosion caused by an abandoned and leaking underground gas pipeline urged regulators Thursday to verify that energy firms that say they’ve complied with tougher safety rules are really doing so.

Erin Martinez made her plea as regulators consider new safety regulations prompted in large part by the 2017 explosion in Firestone that killed her husband and brother, injured her 11-year-old son and left her with severe burns and internal injuries.

She has had 29 surgeries and counting, all while becoming a leading activist voice in the state’s efforts to ensure that its multibillion-dollar fossil fuels industry operates safely and in an environmentally friendly manner.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is holding hearings this week in Greeley before taking action on proposed rules that focus on accurate mapping of flowlines, which connect oil and gas wells to other equipment.

Thousands of miles of flowlines exist in Colorado, and it was an unmapped, abandoned and leaking flowline that saturated the soil near Martinez’s home with odorless gas for months before the April 2017 blast.

Witnesses differed over the level of detail of maps to be made available to the public, homebuilders and others, with activists arguing for fine detail and the industry preferring a level of detail that ensures security.

The proposals also lay out steps for taking flowlines into or out of production, including inspections with any change and ensuring the lines’ structural integrity is fully tested.

The rules presume that lines being permanently abandoned can be left in place with adequate documentation.

Martinez questioned whether abandoned lines should be removed instead. She said she believes energy company reports on compliance with tougher rules aren’t enough.

“How are you going to guarantee that they’re actually going to be followed?” Martinez asked.

She urged commissioners to require independent on-site inspections of flowline changes.

A new law flips the state commission’s mandate to emphasize public health and safety over fostering energy production.

Conflicts over oil and gas have intensified as the Denver metro area expands into formerly rural areas north of the city.

Investigators said the explosion that destroyed Martinez’s home in Firestone was caused by odorless methane from a flowline that likely was severed when the home was built.

The line was believed to be abandoned but instead was connected to an operating well. No one knew it was leaking methane into soil just 6 feet from Martinez’s back door, investigators said.

The line and well were built years before Martinez’s subdivision.

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