DENVER — She is an accidental celebrity - someone now known through no fault of her own.
Erin Martinez is now using that platform to try to keep someone else from becoming the next accidental celebrity.
"I know this is a fight against one of the biggest industries in the world. I think that it isn't just going to be a couple months of a fight for me, I think it's going to be a lifelong thing. I really want to make sure that this change happens and that nobody is ever sitting in this chair having this conversation with you again," said Martinez.
She is known because of the tragedy she experienced in April 2017 when her home in Firestone exploded. Her husband, Mark, and brother, Joey Irwin, were killed in the explosion that injured her and her son. The explosion was caused by an abandoned and severed gas line attached to an oil and gas well.
"I don't want people to think that my story is being exploited, or that I'm being exploited," said Martinez.
She spoke about her family’s experience publicly for the first time last week, when she joined Democrats at a press conference to announce new oil and gas legislation at the Colorado Capitol. Martinez plans to be there Tuesday, as well, when lawmakers prepare to debate the Senate Bill, which would bring extensive reform to the industry.
The proposal comes months after voters in Colorado shot down Proposition 112 that would have pushed new oil wells 2,500 feet away from schools and homes. The new bill will try to make a number of policy changes for oil and gas companies, giving more power to local governments and having state regulators make decisions based on health and safety first.
The flowline blamed for the Firestone explosion had been connected to an abandoned well belonging to Anadarko Petroleum Corp. The original owner of the well abandoned it before there was development in the area, Martinez says, but it was turned on again after Andarko obtained ownership. The well leaked gas into the flowline when it became reactivated.
Martinez says she had a hand in crafting a piece of the new bill, specifically in regards to abandoned flowlines and disclosure about their locations. Her mom remembers Martinez saying in the hospital, just after the explosion, that she would do anything she could to make sure an incident like this never happened again.
Martinez says she isn’t sure that knowing about the well would have changed her family’s decision to live in that house, but she believes that knowledge would have at least prompted them to ask questions about it. She now wants homebuyers and homeowners to be provided information about wells and flowlines around their properties. In the least, she wants people to have easy access to the information for themselves, if they want to go looking for it.
“We weren’t told what we were living next to and living around. The well was only 178 feet from our house. I think disclosure is a huge piece. People should know what they’re living next to, what they’re living on top of, and what the plans are for the area around them,” Martinez said.
She has lived in Firestone for most of her life. She was aware of the wells’ presence in Weld County, but says she never thought much of it before.
“I trusted that the industry was doing what it needed to do to keep us safe. Never did I ever imagine in a million years that my home – that the devastation was going to happen to my house,” she said, adding that the explosion changed that for her. “I think I would have to blame the industry. I think that there were multiple opportunities to see that this abandoned flowline was not abandoned properly.”
Two baseball fields in Firestone were dedicated to Mark Martinez and Irwin a year ago. Erin Martinez wants people who see the plaques in their honor to know they were both amazing, hardworking men.
“It’s just unbearable having two losses at the same time, and definitely unbearable to lose two people of their magnitude,” she said.
Of her brother, she told us:
“I lived next door to [my brother] for about eight or nine years, and so he was there from the moment my children were born, and he was there for their growing up. We had dinner together every night. We went on vacations together and cheered on the Broncos on Sunday together. And we were just a very close family.”
And her husband:
“Mark was an incredible husband. He was a loving father. He was a great son. He was a great friend. A great brother. Just an amazing man. A hardworking man – a zest and a love for life, and really, really loved his life. And he just liked to have a good time, he liked to work hard. And he would really want to make sure that this didn’t happen to anyone again.”
Anadarko reached an undisclosed settlement with the victims last spring.