A story in the Colorado Sun by veteran local political reporter Jesse Paul takes an in-depth look at the role of one woman in the ongoing passage of Senate Bill 19-181, legislation to grant more local control over oil and gas drilling decisions as well as changing the mission of state regulators to protect public safety over “fostering” a for-profit industry. Erin Martinez was nearly killed inside her home in the gaspatch town of Firestone in Weld County after an uncapped flowline leading to a disused well owned by Anadarko Petroleum filled underground spaces in the home with odorless raw natural gas. The resulting explosion killed Martinez’s husband and brother while leaving Erin Martinez herself with serious injuries.
The experience, as Jesse Paul reports, turned Erin Martinez into an activist with nobody’s prodding:
“I’m not being exploited,” she said. “I asked to be involved.”
With her life upended by the force of the blast that lifted her family’s home off its foundation and rearranged it into a fiery pile of debris, Martinez told her mother during her recovery that she wasn’t going to let another family go through what happened to her. That launched her on a journey that recently became public and is loudly making its way through the Colorado General Assembly…
“I think it’s important for people to understand that Sen. Fenberg and the governor and the Democrats, they didn’t come to me and ask me to get involved and use my story,” she said. “I came to them. I reached out and I said that I wanted to get involved and that I didn’t want to be behind the scenes.” [Pols emphasis]
While Senate Bill 19-181 does not specifically address the issue of abandoned wells and encroaching new development, the bill’s change of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s (COGCC) mission to prioritize public safety represents a systemic shift leading to better diligence by regulators and producers alike–all of which will help ensure such a tragedy doesn’t happen again.
Politically, there’s no question that Erin Martinez’s support and public advocacy on the issue has made it much more difficult for the oil and gas industry and their Republican champions in the legislature to employ their usual demeaning stereotypes about their opponents. Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin, the two men killed in the April 2017 Firestone home explosion, both worked in the oil and gas industry like so many of their neighbors in Weld County. Martinez makes it clear that she doesn’t want the industry destroyed any more than she would have wanted her own husband to lose his job. Martinez and the tragedy she experienced refocus the questions about regulating oil and gas drilling in Colorado where they belong: away from political caricatures, and back to what our priorities should be as a society.
And that gives Erin Martinez a voice louder than a thousand paid protesters.