Fatal Home Explosion In Colorado Reignites Setback Debate


On the afternoon of April 17th, 10 year old Gillian Chapman and her little sister Kailey were on their front porch. Gillian had on her roller blades; Kailey had her scooter. They had just gotten permission to go visit their friend Jaelynn, across the street and two doors down.

Then, Jaelynn’s house exploded.

“The house just split open,” Gillian said. “You could see the upstairs.”

Jaelynn Martinez was not in her home at the time, but her father Mark and uncle Joey Irwin were in the basement and were killed in the blast. Her mother, Erin Martinez was injured.

The explosion, in the northern Colorado town of Firestone, is prompting a lot of questions in the state about how oil and gas wells are regulated, and how close to old wells new homes should be built. The incident was linked to a leaking gas line running from a well 178 feet from the property.

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Within days after the incident, Governor John Hickenlooper ordered statewide inspections of all such lines, called flow lines, within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings within 30 days.

Right now, there is no  comprehensive state map  showing where flow lines exist.

Julia Chapman said when they bought their house a couple of years ago, neighboring oil and gas sites just weren’t something they thought about.

“We just sort of trusted that the city and the oil and gas (industry) knew what they were doing,” she said.

Matt Lepore is Director of Colorado’s Oil & Gas Conservation Commission. At a press conference, he called the explosion “highly unusual.”  He says the state is looking very hard at the issue and is taking steps  “to absolutely minimize any possibility of this happening again.”

Colorado’s population has increased by a half a million people since 2010 — bringing with it a lot of new home construction along the state’s clustered Front Range. Weld County, where Firestone is located, issued  more than 5000 new building permits in the last 2 years. The northern Front Range also happens to be where much of Colorado’s oil and gas production is located. State data show that there are now some 54,000 active oil and gas wells in the state, and another 80,000 or so inactive and abandoned wells.

North Thornton