Former Kerr McGee company hit with $18 million fine over deadly blast

Oil and gas regulators in Colorado are seeking an $18 million fine against Kerr McGee, a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum which was later bought by Occidental Petroleum and accused in a 2017 explosion that killed two men and burned a woman in Firestone, Colorado. Occidental stands accused of failing to follow state laws for pipeline inspections and the Firestone explosion.

The explosion happened after Anadarko and its subsidiary Kerr McGee, the former Oklahoma City-based company that was purchased by Occidental in 2019, connected a tank battery to a pipeline that was severed and turned on the gas. The gas then leaked into a home at 6312 Twilight Avenue in Firestone. On April 17, 2017, Joey Irwin, a master plumber, was helping his brother-in-law, homeowner Mark Martinez, fix the hot water heater in the basement when the home exploded. Erin Martinez, Mark’s wife and Joey’s sister, was hospitalized. 

Martinez has since become an advocate of oil and gas reforms, including Senate Bill 181, which required the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to write new rules for drilling in Colorado. A flowline rule adopted in November requires operators to map and make publicly available the locations of their flowlines.

Before the explosion, according to the COGCC, Anadarko failed to secure and inspect pipes and valves, take reasonable precautions to prevent failures, leakage and corrosion of pipelines, and disconnect abandoned pipelines. The company also failed to prevent “significant adverse environmental impacts to air, water, soil, or biological resources to the extent necessary to protect public health, safety and welfare,” officials said. 

The COGCC said it assessed the maximum daily penalty of $15,000 for each violation and applied an aggravating factor of death. The penalty is more than 11 times higher than the previous highest penalty, according to the COGCC. 

“COGCC believes that today’s response is fair and appropriate,” said COGCC Director Jeff Robbins during a press conference in Denver on Thursday, reported the Colorado Independent

The fine is being assessed against Kerr McGee, a subsidiary of Anadarko, which was later sold to Occidental Petroleum. A company spokeswoman said it does not plan to contest the penalties or the allegations. 

“We are mindful of the events of April 17, 2017, every day, and our thoughts continue to be with the families, friends and communities affected by the Firestone tragedy,” said Jennifer Brice, a spokeswoman for Occidental, in an emailed statement. 

Robbins said the COGCC’s nine-member commission will decide whether to approve the penalty on April 6. 

Source: Colorado Independent