A Look at Six Recent Oil and Gas Disasters in Colorado

The recent home explosion in Firestone is a wake-up call

Last updated: 5/30/2017

Update 5/2/17 3pm: The Denver Post has reported that the fatal Firestone home explosion was the result of a cut supply line running from the nearby gas well. The cut seeped volatile gas into the home that ignited and caused the explosion.

News broke last week that a home explosion in which two people were killed and two were injured may have been caused by an oil and gas well that was located just 178 feet from the home. The news has caused two of Colorado’s top 10 oil and gas companies to temporarily shut down wells in the area.

Whether or not the investigation ultimately determines that a well was the cause, the tragedy is a grim reminder that oil and gas drilling is a dangerous industrial activity. Indeed, there have been several other recent disasters in Colorado caused by oil and gas drilling. Below we take a look at five that have occurred just within the last eight years.

The bottom line is this: there is mounting evidence that oil and gas extraction is dangerous activity, not only for the workers themselves, but also for those in close proximity to facilities. Colorado residents shouldn’t have to fear for their lives on a daily basis, worrying that a well or storage tank less than 500 feet from their home that they’ve been assured is safe is actually a danger to their health, well-being and maybe even their life. We cannot allow oil and gas drilling to take place near homes, schools, and other community buildings.

Oil and gas development isn’t slowing down or going anywhere anytime soon. Particularly in the Front Range, new leases and well pads with unprecedented numbers of wells are being approved within areas that are primarily residential, as seen in these maps of Adams and Arapahoe counties. If we are to prevent future tragic accidents, we must protect not just the areas that are already threatened, but those that face possible development in the months and years to come.

Whether the industry is at fault for the Firestone home explosion or not, this is a wake up call that the safety measures we have in place now are simply not good enough. We’ve long said that the burden of proof for proving that drilling is safe must be on the oil and gas industry. One example of a step the industry can take in response to this tragedy is to agree to a commonsense bill that set oil and gas wells further back from school property, which was voted down by a state Senate committee just a few weeks ago after strong opposition from the industry.

Here are six oil and gas disasters that have occurred in Colorado in the last eight years:

  1. Tank Explosion, Mead, May 2017

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation

One person died and three were injured on Thursday, May 25th in an oil tank fire in Weld County. Workers were doing maintenance on an Anadarko oil tank battery when the fire sparked and caused the tank to explode.

2. Hudson Blowout, Weld County, January 2017

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation

A well blowout caused 28,000 gallons of oil, gas, and drilling waste water to gush from a damaged well over a period of three days. It shut down roads, and the effects were seen as far as 2,000 feet away from the site of the accident.

3. Legacy Elementary School, Frederick, April 2014

Unknown Operator

A storage tank exploded approximately 1,800 feet away from the elementary school and caused all students and teachers to shelter in place. Luckily, no one was injured.

The explosion that occured just 1,800 feet away from an elementary school in 2014

4. Windsor, February 2013

PDC Energy

A technical failure caused a valve to break and gush oil and green-colored flowback fluid for 30 hours before it was stopped. The spill was contained so that it did not affect nearby residential areas.

5. Ault, June 2013

Noble Energy

A worker failed to open a valve properly which resulted in the backup and eventual release of crude oil over 150,000 square feet of an organic farm. The farm had to scrape away and replace the contaminated soil. There were no reported injuries.

6. De BeQue, Colorado 2009

Unknown Operator

A spring used as a water source at a cabin in Western Colorado was contaminated with BTEX, a carcinogenic combination of benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene. The owner of the cabin drank multiple cups of the water before he realized it was contaminated. A tested sample of the spring water contained 100 micrograms per liter of BTEX. Five micrograms is the safety threshold for groundwater. A toxicologist with the oil and gas commission told him to get continued blood tests to check for liver or kidney damage. Because his spring is located within 3,000 feet of 18 wells and multiple other oil and gas activities, the exact cause of the contamination is unknown.