Cody Murray, a former oil field services supervisor, blames hydraulic fracturing—fracking—for an explosion on his property that injured him and members of his family.
The water well on Murray’s property exploded in August 2014, burning Murray, his father, wife and daughter. The family has filed a lawsuit alleging that a nearby oil and gas drilling operation contaminated the water with the methane that caused the explosion, the Houston Chronicle (chron.com) reports.
Flames engulfed Murray, now 38, setting his t-shirt on fire. “The skin was sloughing off his body,” his attorney said. The well that exploded on the family ranch was just 1,000 feet from the nearest gas well, according to the Chronicle.
Hydraulic fracturing has brought the state of Texas billions of dollars but has also raised a range of public health and environmental concerns. A Houston attorney and law professor at Rice University called this case a “pivotal point” for fracking. To win the case, he said, the Murrays must prove that the methane in their well was not due to natural contamination. Scientific studies have shown that gas wells drilled by fracking can leak contaminants into groundwater. A 2011 study by researchers from Duke University showed a link between methane contamination in water wells and their proximity to gas drilling sites, the Chronicle reports. Study author Robert Jackson, now at Stanford University, said that drilling shafts can puncture gas pockets, which can flow through buried crevices into water supplies. Jackson said “in principle it is plausible” that this is what happened in this case.
Jackson said contamination generally only occurs in poorly built wells where the cement casing surrounding the shaft is cracked or inadequate. The Murrays’ attorney said that is what happened. He said records from the Texas Railroad Commission show that the casing on the gas well nearest to the Murrays’ property, operated by EOG Resources, Inc., did not match reports filed by the company. The records also show the casing extended down about 550 feet, although an initial schedule planned for 1,000 feet, according to the Chronicle. The attorney said the well was drilled horizontally, directly under the Murrays’ water well. He said testing showed that the methane was not natural contamination but bore markers of deep-earth gas that could not plausibly have migrated near the surface so quickly without help from a driller. In addition, the well water is not as salty as it would typically be with natural methane. To prove the methane in the Murray’s well came from the gas well, scientists would need to test the gas from the nearby wells and also chart and test any separate gas pockets the fracking may have tapped.
Murray suffered third degree burns that destroyed nerves in his arms. He cannot feel the steering wheel to drive and he needs help for tasks like setting the shower temperature. He “can’t even pour a pitcher of tea,” his attorney said. Murray is seeking compensation for medical costs, suffering, disfigurement, lost income, and lost earning capacity, the Chronicle reports.