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Fund Named After Victims In Firestone Explosion Will Improve Oil And Gas Safety

(CBS4) - A woman whose husband and brother were killed in a gas explosion in Firestone says it's hard to believe the company responsible will only face a fine.

On Monday, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved an $18.25 million fine against Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum, which has now been acquired by Occidental Petroleum. The COGCC says it is the largest enforcement penalty it has ever leveled.

The money will go to establish the Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin Memorial Public Projects Fund. The two men were in the basement of Martinez's home working on a water heater in April 2017 when a leaking gas flowline filled the home with odorless gas, leading to the explosion.

Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin were killed in a home explosion in Firestone in 2017. (credit: CBS)

Erin Martinez, who was injured in the explosion along with her son, says the fine sends a message that "Colorado won't tolerate negligent behavior" and that "safety must be the top priority." She says she will continue to stay engaged in oil and gas safety to make sure another family doesn't have to experience the "senseless loss" that her family has experienced.

Firestone home explosion (5)
(credit: CBS)

"I want to acknowledge Mrs. Martinez, for her commitment to improve the safety and the lives of all Coloradans. You are making a difference. While none of this will ever make up for your loss, your courage through this tragedy has been an inspiration to me, and everyone," said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources and chair of the COGCC Commissioners.

"We thank Mrs. Martinez, the Commissioners and COGCC staff for their work that will ensure the state of Colorado's oil and gas operations are conducted in a manner that is protective of the public's health, safety, welfare, wildlife and the environment," said COGCC Director Jeff Robbins. "Over the next few months, the COGCC will be focused on developing new rules that reflect this commitment to protect Coloradans in oil and gas operations."

The COGCC released a list of proposed projects to be funded with the settlement money. The agency, in conjection with the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, will oversee the projects.

The list includes:

Aerial Survey Project

Perform aerial surveys at least once per year for two years in the D-J Basin, which is part of the North Front Range ozone non-attainment area. Aerial surveys have the potential to identify and significantly reduce leaks from pipelines/flowlines, production pads, tanks, central gathering facilities, compressor stations. Identifying and resolving these leaks not only results in reduced exposure to organic compounds that can affect public health and emissions of ozone precursors, it prevents the economic waste of the product. Aerial surveys may also be expanded to other oil and gas basins in Colorado.

Mobile Air Monitoring Van

Acquire a mobile air monitoring van to measure pollutants, and help determine and locate leaks. The van would be a supplement not only to CDPHE's CAMML, but also to APCD inspectors. This mobile air monitoring van would be driven past oil and gas facilities and operations, as well as near flowlines/pipelines. As the van detects leaks, measures are taken to specifically locate the leak and promptly notify the responsible operator.

Intrinsically Safe Optical Gas Imaging Cameras

Currently CDPHE and COGCC use this specialized type of camera to visualize natural gas that is emitted at oil and gas facilities. These cameras can help in identifying leaks and equipment malfunctions that result in uncontrolled emissions. The cameras are nearing the end of their useful life and must be replaced. In addition there is new technology that allows the cameras to quantify (measure) the amount of gas emitted.

Satellite and Remote Sensing Technology

Over the past two years, an E&E Lab Research Fellow (embedded at CDPHE) and the team of faculty and researchers at University of Chicago have been working closely with CDPHE to identify opportunities to leverage new technology and advanced analytics to improve air quality. The E&E Lab is developing machine learning models to help CDPHE improve effectiveness and efficiency of monitoring and inspections through better resource targeting. The E&E Lab is also supporting CDPHE in assessing opportunities emerging from advances in remote sensing (e.g., satellite, drone and aircraft-mounted sensors), which are poised to drastically lower the cost of emissions monitoring while improving measurement precision. The E&E Lab is working with CDPHE to create proofs-of-concept and develop policies to leverage state-of-the-art technology to help achieve emissions reductions; and to measure the impact and effectiveness of the technology-informed approach to enforcement.

Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center (METEC)

With additional funding, METEC will help to develop and characterize leak detection technologies for flowlines (gas migration experiments in different soil types).

Gas Detection and Metering Equipment

COGCC currently needs to update gas detection and metering equipment. This equipment will allow for more accurate detection and measurement of stray gas both in the soil and atmosphere.

Remote Methane Leak Detectors

These machines are highly portable and capable of detecting small leaks in open areas, such as flowlines and pipelines. These can be used in conjunction with Optical Gas Imaging cameras to find and quantify emissions. These cameras would be deployed by COGCC flowline integrity inspectors on a regular basis.

Legal Expense Reimbursement

The Frederick & Firestone Fire Protection District incurred legal expenses related to the Firestone investigation and the National Transportation Safety Board process. This money would help defer those costs.

Public Health, Safety, Welfare and Environment Projects

Monies will be reserved to fund between 2021 and 2024 additional high priority public projects that protect public health, safety, welfare and the environment. The COGCC will work with Kerr-McGee and CDPHE to identify these projects. $8.5 million will be escrowed by Kerr-McGee for these projects.


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