Uncapped Pipeline Cause of Fatal CO Blast

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 @ 11:05 AM gHale


An uncapped pipeline leading to a gas well leaked odorless, unrefined natural gas into the soil which then seeped into a house causing an explosion which killed two people as they worked on a water heater in Firestone, CO, April 17.

The two dead were working on a water heater in the basement of the home and at some point in their work the gas ignited, blowing the house to rubble and critically injuring the third, said Ted Poszywak, chief of the Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District, when he released the results of his investigation.

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As a result of the investigation, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper ordered inspections and tests of all active and abandoned gas pipelines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings. He said energy companies must perform pressure tests on flow lines which carry gas from wells to storage tanks or other collection points to identify which ones were leaking.

“Public safety is paramount,” he said.

But Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), said state well inspections and regulations would not necessarily prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future and that authorities, oil and gas operators, lawmakers and concerned citizens will engage in “a continuing conversation about what happens next” to reassure concerned residents.

“The COGCC inspects about 40,000 wells a year,” Lepore said, “I think 49,000 last year… but there is no comprehensive map of [well] flow lines. This flow line was cut relatively close to the home and the fact that it was cut that close and left uncapped matters more than the fact that the home was less than 200 feet from the well.”

Lepore said the state does not test the integrity of lines where pressure measures less than 15 pounds per square inch. He said there are well lines of all sorts across the state and he was not sure how the state and operators would go about making sure all abandoned well lines were not leaking in dangerous ways.

“What happened was highly unusual… It was horrible and horrifying,” Lepore said. “And we will seek to minimize the possibility of this happening again — and I think [oil and gas] operators will be hyper-vigilant about this going forward.”

Anadarko Petroleum owns the 20-year-old well 170 feet from the remains of the house. The company shut down 3,000 similar vertical wells across the area to carry out leak tests, a move that was followed several days later by another oil company active in and around Firestone, Great Western Oil & Gas, which shut and tested 61 wells.



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