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Politics and Government

Republicans are using the 2017 Firestone home explosion to attack Hickenlooper. A survivor demands they stop.

Erin Martinez is calling on the National Republican Senatorial Committee to take down their "horrifying" TV ad slamming Colorado’s former governor over his handling of oil and gas policies

Erin Martinez, whose husband and brother were killed when their Firestone home exploded in 2017 because of a leak from a nearby oil and gas well, speaks to reporters on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, at the Colorado Capitol. Martinez was at a news conference where Democratic state lawmakers outlined their broad plans for updating the state's oil and gas regulations. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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A survivor of the deadly 2017 home explosion in Firestone caused by a leak from a nearby oil and gas well is calling on the National Republican Senatorial Committee to immediately take down an ad that uses the blast to attack former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. 

Erin Martinez, whose husband, Mark, and brother, Joey, were killed in the explosion called the ad “horrifying.”

“My family and I have worked extremely hard to create positive changes that will keep my story from happening to anyone else and in doing so, honoring the memories of Mark and Joey,” Martinez said in a written statement. “Not a single day goes by that we are not heartbroken and struck with unimaginable grief. This ad uses my story in a negative light and disgraces the memory of Mark and Joey.”

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The NRSC, which is spending millions in Colorado to reelect Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, says it won’t take the ad down. Hickenlooper is running to unseat Gardner. 

Before-and-after photos of the home in Firestone that was destroyed in a 2017 explosion caused by a nearby oil and gas well. The NTSB said a contributing factor to the incident was local officials’ decision to allow homes to be built near oil and gas drilling facilities without knowing where buried pipelines were. (NTSB photos)

“The kind of grief Ms. Martinez and her family have survived is unimaginable, and their public fight to keep other Colorado families safe is incredibly important,” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the NRSC. “John Hickenlooper said he was going to do the right thing to protect Colorado families right after the explosion, but then a private donation to his office from the gas company responsible changed that.”

The 30-second ad lacks context. 

It accuses Hickenlooper of not doing more to sanction Anadarko, the company that owned the leaky well, because his office took a donation from the driller after the blast. While it’s true that Hickenlooper’s office accepted the money weeks after the Firestone blast, there isn’t proof that his office wasn’t tougher on Anadarko because of it. Hickenlooper’s office also accepted money from Anadarko before the fatal blast.

The ad also says that no one went to jail and there were no fines issued under Hickenlooper’s administration. Both claims are true, but state regulators were waiting to pursue fines until after the National Transportation Safety Board finished its investigation. The explosion was caused by a pipeline that was severed during construction of the home.

The pipeline was attached to a well that was dormant until a few months before the incident. When it was restarted, raw natural gas leaked into the house.

The NTSB investigation wasn’t released until October 2019, long after Hickenlooper left office. Four months later, Occidental Petroleum, which acquired Anadarko, was hit with an $18.25 million fine. 

The ad does not name Martinez’s family, but it does use images of their home engulfed in flames.

Hickenlooper’s campaign also called for the ad to come down. “Erin Martinez is absolutely correct — Washington Republicans must take down their ‘horrifying’ and false attack and stop exploiting this tragedy and distorting the facts to score political points,” said Melissa Miller, a spokeswoman for Hickenlooper.

She also pointed out that Hickenlooper took a number of actions after the blast, including calling for pressure testing of pipelines near homes.

A spokesman for Gardner’s reelection campaign declined to comment.

Both Hickenlooper and Gardner have faced criticism for their ties to the oil and gas industry. Anadarko’s political action committee has donated $10,000 to Gardner’s 2020 reelection effort, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Erin Martinez has pushed for stricter regulations on the oil and gas industry in the wake of the explosion. She was instrumental in the passage last year of Senate Bill 181, which dramatically shifted Colorado laws around drilling, but she has mostly stayed away from partisan politics. 

MORE: Colorado lawmakers are using the deadly Firestone explosion as a fulcrum for change — just as Erin Martinez wanted

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Martinez’s son also survived the 2017 blast.

The NRSC has booked or spent $4.9 million in Colorado for the election cycle, including $1.3 million this month alone.

Colorado Sun correspondent Sandra Fish contributed to this report.

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