Another frac lawsuit: Cody Murray from Texas left permanently disabled from burns after fracking causes water well to explode

A Fireball Exploded In This Man’s Face, And Now He’s Suing The Nearby Fracking Operation by Samantha Page, August 12, 2015, Climate Progress

Cody Murray, 38, and his father, wife, and four-year-old daughter were all burned by a “fireball” after methane built up in his pump house and exploded when Murray entered the shed to check on a water issue. The lawsuit, filed last week against EOG Resources, Fairway Resources LLC, and three subsidiaries of Fairway, alleges the methane was from the defendants’ fracking wells just 1,000 feet from Murray’s house, which sits 35 miles outside Fort Worth.

“At the flip of the switch, Cody heard a ‘whooshing’ sound, which he instantly recognized from his work in the oil and gas industry, and instinctively picked his father up and physically threw him back and away from the entryway to the pump house,” the complaint states. “In that instant, a giant fireball erupted from the pump house, burning Cody and [his father], who were at the entrance to the pump house, as well as Ashley and A.M., who were approximately twenty feet away.”

2015 08 11 Cody Murray's burns, exploding water well after fracing contaminated it

Cody Murray received burns on his back, face, and arms after an explosion near his well. CREDIT: COURTESY MURRAY FAMILY

Murray, who was closest to the blast, was burned on his arms, back, neck, and face and spent a week in intensive care after the accident last August. He is still unable to drive due to damage to his hands, the lawsuit states, and subsequently lost his job, which required several hours of driving each day. His father, wife, and daughter were also hospitalized, according to the lawsuit.

“It’s a very sad case. It’s terrible,” said trial lawyer Christopher Hamilton, who filed the suit in Dallas.

Hamilton told ThinkProgress there are two issues that have historically prevented successful cases being brought against fracking companies. First, it’s difficult to determine that the methane (or other contamination) was directly caused by fracking. Methane, a flammable greenhouse gas, is a major component of natural gas, but it also occurs naturally in the ground — a fact that has protected companies from lawsuits. Images of flammable tap water in Pennsylvania and Texas have raised alarm for years, but plaintiffs affected by the contamination were unsuccessful in establishing cause. New methods, though, have enabled scientists to track isotopes and determine where in the ground methane came from, Hamilton said, making it easier to establish causation. 

“Rigorous scientific testing, including isotope testing, has conclusively demonstrated that the high-level methane contamination of the Murrays’ water well resulted from natural gas drilling and extraction activities. The high levels of methane in the Murrays’ well were not ‘naturally occurring,’” the complaint states.

The second issue in fracking cases is that it’s often difficult to directly connect physical damages to contamination, such as in the case of long-term exposure. For instance, another case in Texas that alleged fracking had caused nosebleeds and asthma was thrown out last summer. In Oklahoma, it took a state Supreme Court decision to uphold citizens’ rights to sue fracking companies over earthquakes.

In this case, though, there are “serious, catastrophic and likely permanent injuries that indisputably occurred due to methane,” Hamilton said.

The isotope-tracking science could open up a new avenue for litigation against fracking.

Proponents of fracking claim that the extraction method — wherein thousands of gallons of chemical-laced water is pumped at high pressure into shale underground, loosening deposits of oil and gas — is perfectly safe. … “This is a potentially landmark case,” Hamilton said. “I think this needs to set off an alarm for industry that they need to be casing these wells properly — in the way that scientists have been telling them for decades.”

[What good is casing if companies perforate through it, and frac or inject their toxic waste into drinking water aquifers?]

In fact, methane leaks have been repeatedly linked to fracking operations. Satellite observations have shown that methane is leaking around fracking hotspots at such a high rate that there is no climate benefit in switching from coal to natural gas power, despite the fact that natural gas burns cleanly.

And methane leaks aren’t the only danger posed by fracking operations. Researchers from the University of Texas, Arlington tested water samples collected over the past three years from wells near fracking operations and found elevated levels of heavy metals such as arsenic. Their findings, released this summer, show elevated levels of 19 different chemicals including the so-called BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylenes) compounds. Heavy metals are toxic to humans, and BTEX compounds are considered carcinogenic.

A spokesperson for EOG Resources declined to comment on the case, citing company policy. [Emphasis added]

Suit says drilling caused explosion that injured Texas family by Ellen M. Gilmer, August 11, 2015, E&E News

A water well explosion that sent a Texas family to the hospital with severe burns and other injuries stemmed from nearby oil and gas development, the family alleged in a lawsuit last week.

Perrin, Texas, resident Cody Murray suffered severe burns and spent a week in the hospital after the private water well on his property burst into flames last August while he was checking for a malfunction. His father, wife and 4-year-old daughter were also burned and treated for their injuries. According to last week’s lawsuit, methane contamination from nearby natural gas drilling caused the explosion.

The suit, filed Thursday in a Dallas County district court, accuses EOG Resources Inc., Fairway Resources LLC and associated companies of negligence, nuisance and trespass leading to contamination of the family’s water well.

“The high levels of methane in the Murrays’ well were not ‘naturally occurring,'” the complaint says. “The activities of Fairway and EOG are the only possible sources of the contamination.”

According to the filing, “rigorous scientific testing, including isotope testing, has conclusively demonstrated that the high-level methane contamination of the Murrays’ water well resulted from natural gas drilling and extraction activities.” The suit points to two gas wells about 1,000 feet north of the Murrays’ water well as possible sources.

Three weeks after the explosion, the Texas Railroad Commission told EnergyWire it had found “no evidence of oilfield activities contributing to the event,” but in June, the agency cited Fairway and EOG for discrepancies in the cementing records for those wells. The commission did not respond to a request for comment by deadline, but the lawsuit says its investigation is ongoing.

Dallas-based attorney Christopher Hamilton, who is representing the Murrays, said his team has “unquestionable” evidence linking the family’s water well contamination to drilling activities.

“We have very compelling scientific evidence that will not rely exclusively upon the decisions or determinations of the Railroad Commission,” he told EnergyWire.

Fairway declined to comment on the lawsuit, and EOG said it does not comment on ongoing litigation.

The Murrays are asking for a jury trial and damages for medical expenses, mental anguish, loss of market value of property and several other claims. While many legal attempts to link health problems to oil and gas development have difficulty showing causation, Hamilton says the Murrays’ case is strong for its direct link between the family’s injuries and methane contamination of their well.

“One of the issues with these cases in terms of water contamination resulting from fracking or drilling activities is the lack of long-term epidemiological data. A lot of these cases involve diminution in property value or some claim regarding the continued long-term impacts of methane contamination,” Hamilton said. “Here we have a direct, acute and catastrophic injury. The causation component which has been a difficulty for some plaintiffs is not an issue in this case.” 

The case is also a unique example of a severe injury happening to a landowner, as opposed to an oil field worker, he said. According to the complaint, Murray — who worked in the oil industry himself — was permanently disabled and disfigured by the explosion and has been unable to return to work. He has no sensation below his elbows and cannot drive, the filing says. [Emphasis added]

***

The explosive risk is why Ernst hauls water and has relied on hauled water since 2006. Her well water is too dangerous even to flush toilets with.

2013 Jessica Ernst trying to load water tank at Rosebud

Texas man left permanently disabled from burns after fracking causes water well to explode: suit by Eric W. Dolan, August 10, 2015, rawstory.com

A Texas family suffered serious burns and injuries after a water well exploded because it was contaminated from a nearby fracking operation, according to a lawsuit filed in Dallas County Court.

Cody Murray, the 38-year-old husband of the family of four, sued EOG Resources, Fairway Resources LLC and three Fairway subsidiaries last week, according to Courthouse News Service.

The lawsuit states that Murray suffered severe burns on his arms, upper back, neck, forehead and nose along with “significant neurological damage” — leaving him permanently disfigured and disabled. Murray’s father, wife, and 4-year-old daughter were also injured in the explosion.

Murray and his father went to the water well on his ranch in Perrin on August 2, 2014, to see why pressurized water was spraying inside it.

“At the flip of the switch, Cody heard a ‘whooshing’ sound, which he instantly recognized from his work in the oil and gas industry, and instinctively picked his father up and physically threw him back and away from the entryway to the pump house,” the complaint states.

“In that instant, a giant fireball erupted from the pump house, burning Cody and Jim, who were at the entrance to the pump house, as well as [Cody’s wife] Ashley and [daughter] A.M., who were approximately 20 feet away.”

The lawsuit alleges that natural gas drilling near Murrays’ property caused his water well to become contaminated with methane, which resulted in the explosion. Two gas wells are about 1,000 feet northeast of the Murrays’ well. [Emphasis added]

Fracked Water Explodes, Burning Family by David Lee, August 10, 2015, Courthouse News

DALLAS (CN) – A water well exploded and burned a Texas family of four after being contaminated with methane from fracking for natural gas, the family claims in court.
The husband, Cody Murray, sued EOG Resources, Fairway Resources LLC and three Fairway subsidiaries in Dallas County Court on Thursday. Defendant Fairway Resources GP, LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Goldman Sachs.

“This is a tragic case arising from the flash explosion of a private water well that had been contaminated with methane as a result of the defendants’ drilling and extraction activities,” the complaint states.

“The explosion caused severe and extensive burns to Cody Murray, leaving the 38-year-old husband and father permanently disfigured and disabled. The explosion of the contaminated water well also caused serious burn injuries to his father, wife, and 4-year-old daughter.”

Murray is a rancher in Perrin, an unincorporated community of about 500 in Jack County, some 35 miles west of Fort Worth. He and his father, Jim, entered the pump house on his property on Aug. 2, 2014, to see why pressurized water was spraying inside it.

“At the flip of the switch, Cody heard a ‘whooshing’ sound, which he instantly recognized from his work in the oil and gas industry, and instinctively picked his father up and physically threw him back and away from the entryway to the pump house,” the complaint states.

“In that instant, a giant fireball erupted from the pump house, burning Cody and Jim, who were at the entrance to the pump house, as well as [Cody’s wife] Ashley and [daughter] A.M., who were approximately 20 feet away.”

Murray was seriously burned on his arms, upper back, neck, forehead and nose. He is unable to work and may never be able to work again.

“Cody spent a week in Parkland Hospital’s intensive care unit and burn unit. Even after he was discharged home, Cody’s burns remained for an additional ten weeks,” the complaint states. “In addition, Cody suffered significant neurological damage in the fire, as the sensory nerves that run throughout the skin were destroyed by the burns. These neurological deficits remain today. Cody suffers from paresthesias and extreme weakness in his hands and arms. Cody cannot drive, as he cannot grip the steering wheel with his hands.”

The Murrays say the gas drilling is the “only possible” source of contamination of the well. Two gas wells are about 1,000 feet northeast of the Murrays’ water well.

“Rigorous scientific testing, including isotope testing, has conclusively demonstrated that the high-level methane contamination of the Murrays’ water well resulted from natural gas drilling and extraction activities,” the complaint states. “The high levels of methane in the Murrays’ well were not ‘naturally occurring.'”

EOG Resources did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

The Murrays seek actual and punitive damages for negligence, trespass, nuisance, lost wages, physical impairment, pain and suffering, continuing medical care, disfigurement and loss of consortium.

They are represented by Christopher Hamilton with Standly Hamilton in Dallas.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is credited with helping to create an oil and gas renaissance in the United States, which has driven down prices at the pump. Critics say the high-pressure fracturing of underground rock can contaminate water supplies and even cause earthquakes.

This is not the first such lawsuit. Another Texas family sued after flammable water came out of their kitchen tap. [Emphasis added]

2014 08 06: Texas: Flash fire burns four people, including 4 year girl; methane contamination in well water source possible cause

ORAN – A flash fire in a well house Saturday sent four people to area hospitals with burns. Palo Pinto County Fire Marshal Larry O’Neil said a family of four near Oran was injured by a fire that flared up in their well house.

Cody Murray, who was airlifted by helicopter to Parkland Burn Unit in Dallas, remained in fair condition at the hospital, according to hospital officials.

Ashley Murray and her 4-year-old daughter, Alyssa, were airlifted to Cooks Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth; and James Murray was taken by ambulance to Palo Pinto General Hospital, O’Neil said.

A spokesman at Cook’s was unable to provide condition reports on Alyssa Murray and Ashley Murray.

… Jack County Rural Fire Department and the Perrin Volunteer Fire Department plans a barbecue dinner benefit for the Murrays from 6-8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 8, at Perrin Elementary School gymnasium. An account has also been set up at the Bank of Jacksboro for the family. All monies raised is meant to offset medical expenses. [Emphasis added]

2014 08 06 energy wells at oran, where fire in water well sent 4 to hospital, methane contamination of water source possible cause

Map, more at TXSharon

[Refer also to:

Brief review of threats to Canada’s groundwater from the oil and gas industry’s methane migration and hydraulic fracturing by Ernst Environmental Services (EES), June 16, 2013

31. Alberta Environment, Alberta Agriculture, Canada’s oil and gas lobby group (CAPP) and the Canadian Society for Unconventional Gas warned that natural gas in water wells can be dangerous to property and people. Water wells in Alberta contaminated with migrant gases have blown up.

The Bruce Jack water well at Spirit River was contaminated with dangerous levels of methane and ethane after nearby drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Mr. Jack tried for three years to get appropriate regulator response, investigation and resolution.

On May 9, 2006, Bruce Jack and two industry gas-in-water testers, were seriously injured and hospitalized when the contaminated water well exploded, even though the oil company involved had contracted the professional installation of equipment to separate and vent the gas to make the water “safe”, as is recommended by Alberta Environment.

The Jack water well contamination and explosion was featured in a documentary by Grant Gelinas for CBC News and argued in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta:

The Speaker: Good afternoon. Let us pray.

We confidently ask for strength and encouragement in our service to others. We ask for wisdom to guide us in making good laws and good decisions for the present and the future of Alberta. Amen. …

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Rural Albertans have lost trust in the ability of this Environment minister to protect groundwater and their safety. Growing rural concerns about increasing gas migration into water have been dismissed as fearmongering by this minister.

One week ago in Spirit River a private well exploded, burning and hospitalizing three men. Alberta Environment has been investigating and receiving complaints about this well for over three years. … Mr. Speaker, after two years of complaints from people like the Zimmermans, Ernsts, Lauridsens, and others, how can we believe this department is protecting their health and doing a proper investigation of the complaints?

2006 05 Spirit River Alberta Bruce Jack & 2 Industry Gas in Water Testers Seriously Inured in Contaminated Water Explosion

2006 05 08 Bruce Jack Methane Ethane Contaminated Well Water Day Before the Explosion.mp4

The Jack’s water well the day before it exploded. Note the gas forcing water out of the well (upper Jack well photo) even though the oil company had retained the professional installation of equipment to remove the gas and vent it through the roof.

Isotopic fingerprinting by Dr. Karlis Muehlenbachs of the gases in area energy wells and the Jack well water determined the source. The case is in legal proceedings against Penn West and the contracting firm that installed the gas venting equipment.

Bruce Jack natural gas contaminated water well, photo day of the explosion, May 9, 2006

Bruce Jack and two industry gas-in-water testers were seriously injured and hospitalized.

2006 05 09 Bruce Jack in Alberta hospital contaminated water well explosion

Bruce Jack in hospital, May 9, 2006.

Bruce Jack was hospitalized for a month. There are no Canadian Drinking Water Guideline Limits for methane and ethane (or propane, butane, pentane, etc.).

After EnCana repeatedly fractured the Rosebud drinking water aquifers, the community water tower blew up in an explosion, sending a worker to hospital with serious injuries:

“investigators say an accumulation of gases appears to have caused the explosion that destroyed the Rosebud water tower…the operator was unable to detect the gases by smell and did not use a detection device….”

The new reservoir cost the community about $700,000.

2005 01: Investigators say an accumulation of gases appears to have caused the explosion that destroyed the Rosebud water tower and sent a Wheatland County employee to hospital

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