‘Fugitive Gas’ Leaked From Pipeline Caused Deadly House Explosion

FREDERICK, Colo. (CBS) — Firefighters discussed their investigation into a fatal house explosion near a gas well in Colorado on Tuesday afternoon.

Investigators talked about the details during a news conference about the April 17 explosion in Firestone that killed two people and left another badly burned.

firestone home explosion 7 Fugitive Gas Leaked From Pipeline Caused Deadly House Explosion

(credit: CBS)

“There is no threat to surrounding homes as a result of the incident,” said Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District Chief Ted Poszywak.

Poszywak said that it was “fugitive gas” from a severed and uncapped line. He also said the proximity of the well to the home did not play a role in the explosion.

“Abandoned flow lines were the source of the leak and the explosion,” said Poszywak.

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Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District Chief Ted Poszywak (credit: CBS)

The house was within 200 feet of a well.

“That gas came from a severed and uncapped abandoned line that was not disconnected and capped at the well head,” said Poszywak. “Because unrefined gas has no odor, those inside the home would not have smelled it.”

Erin Martinez, a physics and chemistry teacher, survived the deadly explosion at her Firestone home but her husband, Mark, and her brother, Joseph Irwin, were killed in the explosion.

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Erin Martinez (credit: CBS)

“The origin of the explosion and subsequent fire that destroyed the Martinez home and damaged the neighboring home, resulting in the deaths of Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin, and a severe injury to Erin Martinez, was unrefined, non-odorized gas that entered the home through the French drain and sump pit, through a cut, abandoned line attached to an oil and gas well in the vicinity,” said Poszywak.

firestone home explosion Fugitive Gas Leaked From Pipeline Caused Deadly House Explosion

(credit: CBS)

Shortly after the news conference, Gov. John Hickenlooper called for a statewide review of existing oil and gas operations. That includes inspecting and pressure text 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.

RELATED: Oil & Gas Commission Reacts To Deadly Explosion Cause

Hickenlooper says that inspections of the flowlines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings must occur within 30 days and be tested for integrity in 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.

“Whatever caused the explosion and fire was isolated to the immediate site,” said Poszywak.

He didn’t know why the gas lines were cut.

“The gas followed the flow path of the line where it was cut and into the soil of the foundation surrounding the Martinez home where it slowly saturated the soil and migrated into the adjacent French drain and into the drain line of the sump pit of the home,” said Poszywak.

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“This ‘fugitive gas’ which was odorless, even to a trained tradesman such as Joey Irwin, eventually reached the right mixture of gas and air, found an ignition source just prior to 4:46 p.m. on April 17 while Mark and Joey were in the basement and erupted into a sudden and violent explosion and rapidly-expanding fuel-fed fire and destroyed the home and taking the lives of Joey Irwin and Mark Martinez.”

State regulators tested the soil for evidence of underground leaks from the well but didn’t discover any leaks after the well underwent pressure testing.

firestone house explosion 1 Fugitive Gas Leaked From Pipeline Caused Deadly House Explosion

(credit: CBS)

“The flow line that we tested that is active is owned by Anadarko Petroleum,” said Poszywak.

Anadarko, a petroleum company, closed more than 3,000 vertical wells in northeast Colorado as a result of the explosion.

Anadarko Petroleum released this statement: “I know I speak for everyone at Anadarko when I say that our thoughts and prayers remain with the Martinez and Irwin families as they continue to mourn the loss of their loved ones,” said Al Walker, Anadarko Chairman, President and CEO. “The safety of our employees and the people who live and work in the communities in which we operate is our number one priority. Consistent with that, and out of an abundance of caution, last week we shut in our vertical wells in the Oak Meadows area and throughout the basin. We hope that doing so also provided some additional reassurance to the community in the wake of this tragic accident. We will continue to take all necessary and appropriate steps in that regard, and will continue to cooperate fully with all ongoing investigations to ensure we fully understand the basis for the fire district’s conclusions and that no stone is left unturned prior to any final determinations.”

The well was drilled in 1993 and the house and others nearby were built later.

The state regulates the distance between new wells and existing homes, but local governments control how close new houses can be built to existing wells. In Firestone, the requirement is 150 feet.

CBS4 also reached out to Century Homes, the developer of the homes in the subdivision where the explosion happened. A spokesperson says they built the homes in 2015. They have their own team investigating the explosion and fire. At this time, they say they don’t have any answers. CBS4 will be checking back in with them as this investigation develops.

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