Family left shaken by pump house explosion

A Jack County family wants answers after they were injured when a water pump house exploded in 2014.

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

Over the past couple of years, the Barnett Shale has become the epicenter of the national debate over fracking.

Starting in 2012, WFAA began investigating gas flames flowing out of a water well in Parker County.

Now there's a new case — another water well — so full of natural gas it exploded, nearly killing a Jack County man and some of his family.

Are these cases related? Could it happen again?

These two cases involve water wells in the Barnett Shale located near active natural gas wells. Both water wells are so polluted they had to be shut down.

And both are allegedly contaminated with Barnett Shale gas. 

The big difference is that the Murrays' water well in Jack County exploded last year and three people nearly died. Ashley Murray had never seen anything like what happened in her water well pump house in August of last year.

"I saw water coming out, and then I walked in and there was water dripping from the ceiling and the walls," she said while walking us through the pump house. 

She said she quickly called for her husband Cody and his father Jim to come take a look.

Cody Murray also saw the well water everywhere in the pump house. "So I reached down and turned the water valve back on," he said. "I was sitting here looking, and about that time I started hearing that well making noise."

Murray used to work in the oil and gas industry; he recognized that noise: The "wooshing" sound of pressurized gas about to hit the surface.

He said he spun around and yelled to his father to bail out.

"And I picked him up and threw him, and as soon as I threw him there was a massive heat ball of flames," Murray said. 

He said the well pump clicked on and a leaking plume of gas erupted.  

Murray suffered severe burns on his arms, neck, face and back. His father's hands and face were burned.

And across the yard — 30 feet away — Ashley was holding their four-year-old daughter.

"I ran right over there, and I turned, and then I saw her hair was all burned and she was still screaming," Ashley said.

They were burned and traumatized, but able to survive an ordeal that has the entire family shaken... and eager to find out what happened.

Now, a year later, they look with suspicion out their kitchen window and wonder about the two gas wells located 1,000 feet from their back door. Did pressurized Barnett Shale gas somehow leak into the water table and shoot up into their water well?

Christopher Hamilton, the Murrays' attorney, answers in the affirmative.

"There are a number of nearby wells that are not properly cased, or have inadequate surface casing, including wells that go directly underneath the Murray's property," Hamilton said. 

He's talking about the protective layer of cement that surrounds and protects the well bore. Drilling companies are supposed to make sure that surface casing cement goes below and protects all layers of usable water.

Hamilton said the two gas wells behind the Murrays' house were not properly cased. He also said his experts found Barnett Shale gas in the family's water well.

"Rigorous scientific testing, including isotope testing, that has conclusively demonstrated that the gas in the Murray's water well that caused this explosion, came from deep under the ground," Hamilton said. "This gas was not placed in the Murray's water well by Mother Nature."

 

The operator of the two wells located on the Murrays' land, EOG Resources, declined to comment, saying they do not discuss pending litigation.

But documents on file with industry regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission — which is investigating the explosion — indicate the gas wells were properly cemented.

Sixty miles to the south, in Parker County, a drilling debate erupted three years ago when homeowner Steve Lipsky began igniting gas vapors coming out of his water well. As in the Murrays' case, Lipsky and his experts also claimed the gas in his water matches the chemical properties of gas found deep in Barnett Shale.  

The drilling company denies that, saying the gas in Lipsky's well is not shale gas, but is naturally-occurring.

No matter what the source of the gas, the Murrays want neighbors to know that something in the area went terribly wrong, and they fear it could happen again.

"It's scary to us," Ashley Murray said. "Scary because somebody could die."

Meanwhile, the Murrays' contaminated water well is shut down. They have to truck fresh water in every month.

The Railroad Commission's investigation is more than a year old now, and no blame has yet been assessed.

The Murrays are suing two different gas exploration companies hoping to hold someone accountable for ruining their water — and almost their lives.

MORE: From News 8 Investigates


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