Proposition 112 backers have released a new campaign video featuring the distraught brother of a man killed last year when a home exploded in Firestone.
The explosion, blamed on a severed flowline from a nearby natural gas well, in part prompted the measure that would increase the distance between new oil and gas operations and occupied structures to 2,500 feet.
Backers of the ballot question say regulations contained in the ballot proposal, including a restriction on redevelopment of a plugged or abandoned well, would have prevented the explosion.
But the oil and gas industry says that’s not true.
“The accident in Firestone was about a cut flowline, and it had absolutely nothing to do with setbacks, so any attempt by Colorado Rising to connect setbacks to the Firestone tragedy is misguided,” said Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
MORE: What you need to know about Proposition 112
The one-minute video from Colorado Rising, which is backing the ballot question, is focused on Irwin, whose brother Joey Irwin and brother-in-law, Mark Martinez, were working in Martinez’s home when the house exploded, killing them both.
Martinez was married to Irwin’s sister, Erin, who was severely injured in the April 17, 2017, blast.
In the ad, Brett Irwin tearfully recounts the day of the explosion in the day of the ad and learning that his brother and brother-in-law had died.
“I was hoping it would wake up Colorado a little bit,” he says in the spot. “… If we don’t do something about this, it’s going to happen again.”
“Firestone was horrible tragedy and the pain suffered by Brett Irwin and his family is unimaginable,” said Karen Crummy, a spokeswoman for Protect Colorado, which opposes the measure. “Proposition 112 would not have prevented this tragedy, however.”
Under current law, oil and gas drilling must be at least 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools and hospitals.
Neither current law nor Proposition 112 deal with how close cities may allow new homes to be built to existing oil and gas drilling operations.
In the Firestone case, a new neighborhood called Oak Meadows was under construction, and homes, including the one that exploded, were built less than 200 feet from a well that had been operating since 1993. The well, now owned by Anadarko Petroleum, had been shut down for all of 2016, a period when natural gas prices were low, but was restarted in January 2017.
MORE: “It is going to be very messy”: Opposing oil and gas ballot measures respond to Colorado’s contentious drilling climate
Proposition 112, if passed, would mandate that “the re-entry of an oil or gas well previously plugged or abandoned is considered new oil and gas development.” That’s why the measure’s backers contend it would have prevented the Firestone explosion.
“The well that leaked was (less than 200) feet from the home,” said Anne Lee Foster, with Colorado Rising. “The home was built after the well, which is why it could be that close. But that was a shut-in well and the measure prevents re-entry of plugged or shut-in wells from new development. The measure would have prevented Anadarko from re-entering that well.”
Haley, with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, disagrees with that interpretation.
“Proposition 112 seeks to establish a 2,500 foot statewide setback for any oil and natural gas activities that require permits,” he said in a statement to The Colorado Sun. “Simple maintenance and well management work, such as addressing a shut-in well, as was the case in Firestone, does not require a permit.”
Haley said new laws and new regulations are on the books to prevent a situation like Firestone from happening again.
“Re-entry of plugged and abandoned wells, significant site updates, and implementations of new technologies, for example, may require new permits, and on that particular front this measure is less about new development and more about shutting down existing sites,” he said.
Colorado Rising says it is pushing the Brett Irwin video out on social media through Election Day, Nov. 6.
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