$18 million fine levied in fatal Firestone home explosion


DENVER  | Colorado regulators on Monday fined an Occidental Petroleum Corp. subsidiary more than $18 million for a fatal 2017 house explosion linked to a severed oil and gas well flowline.

The fine for the Kerr-McGee Corp. was by far the largest ever levied by the state against an energy company, The Denver Post reported.

Federal investigators said in November the explosion in the Weld County town of Firestone happened after lines then owned by Anadarko Petroleum likely were severed during the home’s construction.

Kerr-McGee was a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum, which was later purchased by Occidental. Kerr-McGee said in a statement Monday that nothing it says can bring back what was lost in the accident and noted that the company has put in place extensive additional safety measures over the past three years.

The National Transportation Safety Board found that flowlines near the home weren’t properly abandoned. Anadarko acquired the well the line was connected to in 2013.

Investigators blamed odorless gas seeping from a long-abandoned flowline just feet away from the home. They found that, despite being abandoned, the line was connected to an operating well. Its existence was unknown to regulators or developers of the neighborhood where the home was built.

The blast killed Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin. Erin Martinez, Mark Martinez’ wife and Irwin’s sister, was badly burned.

Jeff Robbins, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, explained last month when the fine was proposed that “the aggravating factor of death” boosted the amount. The previous top penalty assessed by the agency against an oil and gas company was $1.6 million in 2018.

In November, Colorado regulators approved a set of safety measures designed to increase citizen protections in areas surrounding thousands of miles of underground oil and gas pipelines in the state.

Anadarko reached an undisclosed settlement agreement in 2018 with the families of victims and survivors of the deadly explosion.