Groups call for independent investigation into Firestone home explosion

Firestone, Colorado, home exploded in fireball on April 17. Homeowner Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joey Irwin died, and Mark’s wife Erin was seriously injured.

Today more than a dozen groups representing citizens and the environment sent a letter to Governor Hickenlooper calling for an “independent committee to investigate the causes of that gas explosion and determine the risks of recurrence.” The letter, written by Be The Change environmental director Phil Doe is published below.

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May 26, 2017
Dear Governor Hickenlooper:

Following the Firestone tragedy in which two young men were killed, a young son was left without a father, and his mother, the wife of one of the men, was seriously injured, we asked that you establish an independent committee to investigate the causes of that gas explosion and determine the risks of recurrence.

We made that request in two letters dated May 2 and 3, 2017. They are attached for your re-acquaintance. We have had no reply. Indeed, it appears you are still committed to allowing the industry to investigate and judge its own accident.

In this nation, industrial accidents are investigated by independent government entities to determine their cause and any corrective action needed to protect the public. Negligence is not ruled out as a contributing factor until all the facts are known. That approach needs to be adopted in this case. You must abandon your hands off, “business friendly” regulatory approach. The facts demand it.

Indeed, we question the adequacy of Anadarko Petroleum closing down 3000 vertical wells, most of which are low producing wells, since the shut downs result in only a 3 percent loss in overall oil and gas production for the company. This “abundance of caution,” as they term it, smacks a little of the wolf in granny’s clothes. They would have us believe that the problem is with old vertical wells, when in fact, the new, industrial-size, horizontal wells, 10 to 40 wells on a pad, pose an even greater threat to public safety, in our estimation. Size matters and all wells grow old and eventually leak, as even the industry admits. In our opinion, all operations, old and new, and not just pipelines from old wells, need to be independently evaluated. The issues are gas leakage, pipeline alignment and maintenance, and well proximity to humans. All must be independently evaluated for the risks they pose to the public, especially those living close to the industry’s infrastructure, i.e., wells, pipelines, and storage facilities.

We would remind you that Anadarko’s record in these matters is deplorable. In 2015, for example, the company was fined $5.15 billion in federal bankruptcy court for attempting to escape cleanup costs for major environmental damage done by one of its subsidiaries, Kerr-McGee. The prosecuting attorney in that case was Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street,” Bharara was recently fired by Donald Trump after being assured earlier that he could stay on. He has asked for an independent investigation of Trump’s Russian imbroglio to help restore confidence in government. The latest polls show that almost 60 percent of American citizens agree with him. Politicians in your party have been particularly keen on an independent investigation. And indeed the public pressure finally won out. Last week an independent investigator was appointed by Congress to investigate suspicions concerning Trump’s relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin.

You need to take this example to heart. Transparency must inform this investigation, and thoroughness must be its hallmark. A 30-day look about by the industry at its old vertical wells and flow lines, as you suggest, will not do it.

Moreover, the COGCC’s recent vote to contest the Court of Appeals ruling that the agency’s first and primary obligation is not the development of oil and gas, as it contends, but the protection of public health and the environment, leaves us incredulous. Are you the Governor of this state or is Attorney General Cynthia Coffman? You said publicly that you did not want that decision contested. By allowing the COGCC, an agency under your control, to ignore your expressed policy decision to implement the court’s recommendations, are you not creating a constitutional crisis? Are you not, by inaction, abdicating the executive branch to Ms Coffman and the oil industry?

One thing is for sure, the rogue actions of the COGCC and its executive director, Matt Lepore, must be addressed. Dr. Larry Wolk, the state’s demonstrably weak chief medical officer, who as board member on the oil and gas commission voted to contest rather than protect public health, is a special case. You appointed them all. Forced resignations and terminations are in order.

Quite frankly governor, as we’ve said before, the COGCC’s formulation that it had the obligation to promote oil and gas development 50 percent of the time and protect public health the environment other 50 percent is an absurd and infantile formulation, one devoid of all logic. Even more embarrassing is the fact that the Court of Appeals had to remind your agency what was in its own published guidelines. Those guidelines declare the agency’s first obligation to be the protection of public health and the environment. There is nothing to contest, but there is much to correct.

We are aware that the federal National Transportation Safety Board will be looking at the Firestone pipeline explosion, for pipelines are considered a mode of transportation for oil and gas. But this examination, while potentially helpful, will be limited in scope. Moreover, NTSB’s investigation cannot substitute for your constitutional obligation as recited in your oath of office to protect the public’s health and safety. That promise and obligation can only be fulfilled with an open and full investigation of the risks to people living near oil and gas development.

For these reasons and others, we the citizens and organizations listed below ask for a thorough independent investigation, for only then can public confidence in government be restored.

Phillip Doe, Environmental Director
Be The Change

Colorado Rising
Wall of Women Colorado
Jews Of The Earth
350 Colorado
Lakewood Fractivists
Food and Water Watch
North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy
WildEarth Guardians
Metro Denver Community Rights
What the Frack?! Arapahoe
Douglas County Greens
The Question Alliance
Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont
Protect Our Loveland
Loretto Earth Network
Fractivist.org

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