Weld County Sheriff’s Office says 2 deadly gas explosions unrelated; Gov. John Hickenlooper says it’s too soon for state to act
May 26, 2017
Despite calls from some for aggressive regulatory action in the wake of the second deadly southern Weld County oil and gas explosion in just more than a month, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Weld County elected officials took a wait-and-see approach Friday while investigators worked to determine a cause.
Few details are publicly known about the explosion, which occurred about 3:15 p.m. Thursday near the intersection of Colo. 66 and Weld County Road 13, called Colorado Boulevard in the area, just north of Firestone. Crews from Mead's Mountain View Fire Rescue, the Weld County Sheriff's office and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration responded to the scene. First responders found three injured workers, two of whom were taken to Greeley's North Colorado Medical Center while a third was taken to Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland. Officials later found a fourth victim who was deceased.
Weld County Coroner Carl Blesch on Friday said he still was working to confirm the identity of the person who died.
Julie Cozad, chairwoman of the Board of Weld County Commissioners, said her concern for now is with the families of the victims. She said a knee-jerk reaction would be irresponsible.
"Right now, we'd like to wait and see what happens with the investigation," she said. "If there are things we need to do, we'll look at those things. But now, we have no idea what happened."
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a statement about the fire Friday, calling it a "terrible tragedy."
"Today is about the victims and families," he said in the statement.
Hickenlooper's statement also touched on the safety concerns surrounding the fire and confirmed OSHA will continue to investigate.
Cozad emphasized the need to avoid jumping to conclusions.
"I think people need to wait," she said. "I know it's hard to be patient, but people do need to really find what the causes of the incidences were before just reacting."
Mountain View Assistant Fire Chief Roger Rademacher said the investigation is ongoing, and it may continue for some time. Crews went door-to-door in the area Friday to find any gas in the area. They did not find any, according to a fire department news release.
Rademacher said his department's efforts are separate from any investigation conducted by Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the company that owns the site.
Anadarko has faced public scrutiny over the past month after the explosion of a Firestone house killed two people and injured a third. The April 17 explosion was linked to a nearby Anadarko well.
In that incident, investigators determined a severed 1-inch gas flow line was responsible for leaking methane into the basement of the home that exploded. The flow line was considered abandoned so officials do not know why it was still connected to a well head 178 feet from the home with the valve in the "on" position.
Helen Wells, spokeswoman for Anadarko, said the workers injured in the blaze were not inspecting flow lines, which crews all over Weld are doing in the wake of the Firestone explosion. All oil and gas operators have until June 30 to inspect and document flow lines within 1,000 feet of any oil and gas well.
"Work crews were conducting maintenance associated with a facility upgrade which was initiated in April 2017," she said in an email Friday. "They were completing work to basically consolidate two tank facilities into one as part of our emissions-management efforts."
She added Anadarko will continue to cooperate with all investigations, but she offered few other details. In addition to OSHA and the fire department, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission also is investigating. Regulators are asking Anadarko to perform a "root cause" analysis of the accident to determine exactly what happened and why, according to The Denver Post.
COGCC officials also are investigating whether the explosion led to any spills Anadarko must clean up. The company also must file a standard accident report with the state within 10 days.
Although Thursday's explosion was less than 4 miles north of the April house explosion, Hickenlooper said there was no reason to connect the two.
"At this time we have no reason to believe that there is any relationship between the circumstances that led to these two accidents," he said.
Still, not everyone was happy to view the two explosions as unrelated.
Democratic state Rep. Mike Foote said the industry and government "have an obligation to treat these incidents not as isolated or freak accidents."
The Sierra Club called for Anadarko to shutter all of its operations while state and federal authorities conduct a comprehensive review. The company did not respond to this request.
The new public pressure adds to the mounting legal work in Colorado for Anadarko, according to The Denver Post.
Anadarko faces at least two lawsuits over the Firestone explosion. One is a proposed class-action complaint alleging the company misled investors about its safety practices. Another lawsuit, by family members who live near the Firestone site, alleges the company was negligent in allowing gas to seep into the neighborhood.
In a March filing with federal regulators, Anadarko disclosed it also is facing an investigation from Colorado's Health Department over air quality regulations.
Cozad said Anadarko has proven it is a responsible operator.
"Anadarko has been proactive in doing a lot of things. They permanently shut down three wells near the neighborhood of the first incident," Cozad said. "I think they're being very proactive and doing things they're not required to do, and they'll continue to do that."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.