Truth check: Firestone explosion attack ad

Truth Check

DENVER (KDVR) — The Truth Check team continues to look at the candidates and their commercials in the 2020 election. Every advertisement that claims something — we will research and determine if the ads are actually telling the truth.

You can watch our previous “Truth Check” segments here and you can read our criteria and standards here.

The latest Truth Check involves the highly competitive race for one of Colorado’s United States Senate seats. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper is challenging incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner, who’s defending the seat for the first time.

The latest attack ad is from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which helps elect Republicans to the Senate. Its ads are not necessarily approved by the Republican candidates.

The ad attacks Hickenlooper for the 2017 Firestone gas explosion, which killed Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, along with fire investigators, determined it was caused by a severed gas line that was owned by the Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.

Erin Martinez, Mark’s widow, has demanded the ad be taken off the air. So have both Hickenlooper and Gardner.

CLAIM #1 

Anadarko secretly gave John Hicklenlooper more than $330,000

Exact quote in ad: “After a deadly home explosion in Firestone, neighbors say not enough has been done to prevent a similar tragedy. That’s because John Hickenlooper took a secret donation from the company who caused it. More than $330,000 over four years.”

Verdict: Not exactly

Reason: Since the 2012 election cycle, Anadarko and its parent company Occidental Petroleum have given John Hickenlooper’s campaigns $270, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But, while Hickenlooper led the state, Anadarko did give the governor’s office more than $330,000. It’s not necessarily secret, but does take some digging to find on the state’s Transparency Project website.

CLAIM #2

No one went to jail for the explosion

Exact quote in ad: “No one went to jail.”

Verdict: True

Reason: No one did go to jail. However, there were never any criminal charges filed in the case. An overwhelming majority of accidents like this are considered civil matters.

CLAIM #3

No company involved with the blast was fined while Hickenlooper was governor

Exact quote in ad: “No fines under Hickenlooper.”

Verdict: True

Reason: None of the companies involved were fined while Hickenlooper was governor. But, it’s not the governor’s job to fine oil and gas companies. That belongs to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. In 2020, three years after the blast, the COGCC slapped Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum (which now owns Anadarko) with the largest fine in the agency’s history – $18.25 million. Meanwhile, Anadarko did settle with the Martinez family in May 2018. The settlement was not made public.

CLAIM #4

Hickenlooper didn’t punish Anadarko for allowing gas through an old severed line

Exact quote in ad: “John Hickenlooper – he took the money but let them get away with it.”

Verdict: Misleading

Reason: Yes, while Hickenlooper was governor, his office took the donations from Anadarko. But again, the COGCC is tasked with regulating and penalizing oil and gas companies, not the governor. And nearly two weeks after the explosion, then-Gov. Hickenlooper issued a directive that ordered all oil and gas companies to inspect all of their lines within 30 days and test or safely cap them within 60 days.

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