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Polis blasts lack of state regs that might have prevented fatal Firestone explosion

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May 3, 2017, 12:16 pm
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat who’s considering a run for governor in 2018, called a fatal April 17 home explosion in Firestone caused by an abandoned gas line both “avoidable” and “devastating” for the families involved.

Polis has long fought to impose tougher state, local and federal restrictions on oil and gas drilling operations, especially after his personal property on Colorado’s Front Range was impacted and he subsequently funded anti-fracking ballot initiatives before striking a deal with Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2014.

Polis, who represents much of the heavily drilled northern Front Range as well as the Vail Valley, confirmed that the Firestone home explosion was the result of an abandoned gas line that was not sealed properly.

“Avoidable,” Polis said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “What occurred in Firestone, while devastating, was predictable because Colorado sadly does not have adequate protections against dangerous oil and gas developments in our neighborhoods. The days where oil and gas profits are valued more than Coloradans’ safety, property, and quality of life needs to end.

“I call upon the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to take immediate steps to protect the public and implement new standards to prevent disasters like this from happening in the future. We cannot continue to delay local control, stricter safety standards, and greater setbacks,” Polis added.

Polis took heat from some environmentalists for his grand bargain with Hickenlooper in 2014 that pulled two ballot questions calling for greater setbacks and local control over drilling operations as well as two pro-industry initiatives. A task force was formed to come up with tighter state regulations, but its local control rule was largely panned by both sides, including Polis, who then supported another failed attempt at a local control ballot question in 2016.

Two men, Mark Martinez and Joseph Irwin, were killed in the April 17 explosion linked to an Anadarko gas well less than 200 feet from the home. The company has shut down 3,000 similar wells for inspection following the explosion and fire that’s stoked fear throughout gas-patch communities along Colorado’s Front Range.

Hickenlooper’s office issued the following press release on Tuesday:

Gov. Hickenlooper directs review of statewide oil and gas operations following Firestone home explosion investigation

“DENVER — Tuesday, May 2,  2017 — Gov. John Hickenlooper today called for a statewide review of existing oil and gas operations following the disclosure of the cause of the Firestone home explosion that killed two and critically injured one other.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Martinez and Irwin families at this difficult time.

“Public safety is paramount. We are assessing whether these operations were conducted in compliance with state law and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s (COGCC) rules. We also have issued a directive requiring oil and gas operators statewide to undertake the following actions:

  • Inspect and pressure test existing oil and gas flowlines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings to ensure integrity;

  • Ensure that any lines that are not in use are properly marked and capped;

  • Ensure all abandoned lines are cut below the surface and sealed.

“Inspections of existing flowlines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings must occur within 30 days and tested for integrity within 60 days. Lines that have been either abandoned or are not in use must be inspected within 30 days and abandoned under current rules within 60 days.

“Since the day after the explosion and fire, COGCC and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation have worked closely with the Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District and Firestone Police Department in its investigation of the cause and origin. In addition, COGCC has been conducting its own investigation into potential environmental impacts from nearby oil and gas operations.

“The Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection investigation concluded that no additional contamination or danger exists to neighboring homes. We have and will continue to make all state resources available as needed.”

Boulder County, which is embroiled in litigation with the state and industry over its recently expired moratorium on new oil and gas permits, issued the following statement on Firestone:

Statement from the Board of County Commissioners

The tragic home explosion in Firestone is a poignant example of how important it is that we continue to work to protect the health and safety of our residents on all fronts available to us.  

We believe that this tragic accident only further demonstrates that this intensive and dangerous industrial activity is not compatible with neighborhoods and places where people live and recreate.

As a result of the Firestone investigation conclusions released yesterday, we have requested that all oil and gas operators in Boulder County not only identify the location of their active and inactive pipelines and provide this information to Boulder County, but that they also take steps to guarantee the safety of these pipelines to all county residents. 

More broadly, we call on the oil and gas industry to inspect, repair, and assure the safety of all of its existing wells and pipelines. 

We have further asked that they provide information on their emergency plans and to comply with the Governor’s request to:

  • Inspect and pressure test existing oil and gas flowlines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings to ensure integrity;
  • Ensure that any lines that are not in use are properly marked and capped;
  • Ensure all abandoned lines are cut below the surface and sealed. 

We know there are inactive, plugged, and abandoned wells and flow lines in Boulder County, and presumably lines running through our open space properties along the eastern flank of Boulder County. We will be taking action to inspect those facilities as soon as possible since we have access to those properties. Testing could include both infrared camera as well as soils testing.

We pledge to continue our multi-pronged strategy to actively address the public health and safety impacts of oil and gas extraction on every level that we can. 

   Cindy Domenico. Deb Gardner, Elise Jones
Boulder County Commissioners

 

 

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, SKI Magazine, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), Ski Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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