'They're Everywhere': Oil, Gas Wells Dot Developments, Raising Potential Dangers Colorado is reviewing oil and gas operations after a fatal home explosion was linked to an abandoned, but still leaking, gas line. The tragedy is raising questions about how older wells are regulated.

'They're Everywhere': Oil, Gas Wells Dot Developments, Raising Potential Dangers

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/527606546/528503001" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Colorado is reviewing its oil and gas operations after a house blew up last month, killing two people. A pipe from a nearby oil and gas well had been abandoned but not properly sealed. The tragedy is prompting many questions about the regulation of wells. Dan Boyce with the public media collaboration Inside Energy reports.

DAN BOYCE, BYLINE: Julia Chapman's just pulled into the garage of her home in Firestone, Colo., just north of Denver.

JULIA CHAPMAN: Girls, can you grab some groceries, please?

BOYCE: Two young daughters.

CHAPMAN: Twin boys that are almost 2.

BOYCE: Oldest daughter Gillian is 10. And on the afternoon of April 17, she and her sister were right here on their front porch. They'd just gotten permission to go play at their friend Jaelynn's house.

GILLIAN: We were standing right there. We turned around, and the house exploded.

BOYCE: Jaelynn's house just across the street.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: The remains of two people have been pulled from the rubble of this house explosion in Firestone.

GILLIAN: The house just split open. You could see the upstairs.

CHAPMAN: The insulation was still floating in the air down the street.

BOYCE: It turns out Jaelynn was not home at the time, but her dad, Mark Martinez, and uncle, Joey Irwin, were in the basement, and they were killed in the blast. Julia Chapman says when they bought their house, neighboring oil and gas sites just weren't something they thought about.

CHAPMAN: We just sort of trusted that the city and the oil and gas knew what they were doing.


MATT LEPORE: What is taking place here is highly unusual.

BOYCE: That's Colorado's chief oil and gas regulator Matt Lepore speaking at a recent press conference. The Martinez home was built 178 feet from an existing dormant well. Anadarko Petroleum switched it back on in January of this year. And when they did, unrefined gas started flowing into an old 1-inch plastic pipe called a flow line. It was supposed to be sealed but it wasn't. Lepore says a new state directive orders inspections of these flow lines within the month if they're inside a thousand feet of an occupied building.


LEPORE: To seek to absolutely minimize any possibility of this happening again.

BOYCE: In Colorado and many other places, suburbs are expanding into areas that used to be oil and gas fields.

SHANE DAVIS: So if you know what to look for, there's one right there too to your left.

BOYCE: I'm driving around Firestone with anti-oil and gas activist Shane Davis. He runs a blog called fractivist.org.

DAVIS: They're everywhere.

BOYCE: He's pointing out just how close some of these houses are to wells and khaki-colored oil and gas tanks.

DAVIS: All of this should be banned in residential areas, period. There's no reason for this in residential areas other than profit.

BOYCE: Colorado is one of only two states that actually regulates the flow lines coming out of these wells. Still, a comprehensive map showing where these lines are does not exist. And while new oil wells must be drilled at least 500 feet from homes, there is no state regulation for how far new homes must be built from existing oil wells.

GREGORY MIEDEMA: That dramatic of a setback is really, really hard to stomach.

BOYCE: Gregory Miedema heads the Home Builders Association of Northern Colorado. He says contractors are willing to consider new regulations on this, but he warns it could drive up prices.

MIEDEMA: What they want to make sure is that they don't price the public out of a new home.

BOYCE: And there is still a lot of demand for new homes here. In fact, right behind the site of the Martinez home explosion, workers are busy with the construction of a new apartment complex with nearly 300 units. For NPR News, I'm Dan Boyce, in Firestone, Colo.


SHAPIRO: The story comes to us from Inside Energy, a public media collaboration focused on America's energy issues.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.