Thursday, June 02, 2016

Did leaking gas well cause fire that disabled Texan and burned his family? Probe leaves questions

A well near the Murray home (Texas RRC)
Texas officials didn't fully investigate whether leaking natural gas caused a fire that disabled a Texas man and also burned members of his family, Mike Soraghan reports for Energy Wire.

Cody Murray of Perrin "suffered second- and third-degree burns over nearly a quarter of his body. His father and 4-year-old daughter were also burned in the August 2014 flash fire," Soraghan reports. "The nerves in his arms were burned off to above his elbows. . . . The injuries cost him his job as a field operations foreman for a Fort Worth oil company."

For two years, the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas, has been investigating whether "oil and gas wells scattered around Murray's neighborhood could have leaked methane into his water," Soraghan writes. "RRC officials say they still don't know whether oil and gas wells played a role in the explosion. Although they've traced the gas to the deep layers from which natural gas is produced, they've left the source of the contamination as 'inconclusive'. But thousands of pages of RRC records and emails, obtained by EnergyWire under Texas open-records law, show significant gaps in the investigation and suggest at least one potential source wasn't fully examined. A damaged and possibly leaking gas well nearby wasn't tested to see whether it matched the gas in Murray's water. Before the explosion, agency officials dismissed warning signs of stray gas in a neighbor's water well. And RRC officials found possible errors in their safeguards for keeping stray gas out of groundwater."

Murray has filed suit against nearby well operators but not the RRC. Before Muray was injured, neighbors reported apparent leakage of hydrocarbons into their water wells, and frustration with RRC investigators, though the agency ordered a leaking well to be shut. "A well, a narrow hole drilled deep into the earth, doesn't necessarily stop producing gas when a valve is turned at the surface," Soraghan notes. "The gas can keep coming. It just doesn't always come out the hole it was supposed to."

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