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Something in the Water

North Texas rancher Cody Murray and his father Jim went to investigate a pump house after seeing water spraying from it and, when they flipped a switch, a ‘fireball’ sparked by built-up methane exploded on the men.

The explosion shot out 30 feet in both directions, catching Murray’s T-shirt on fire and ’caused serious burn injuries to his father, wife, and four-year-old daughter’, according to the lawsuit.

Attorney Chris Hamilton helped fight back against the oil and gas companies responsible. The suit alleged the methane was from the fracking wells near the Murray’s house in Perrin, which is 35 miles from Fort Worth—the birthplace of fracking.

Water Well Explosion Severely Burns Family; Fracking to Blame

Cody Murray is a rancher living in Perrin, Texas, a small community about 35 miles west of Fort Worth. On August 2, 2014, he and his father, Jim, went to check the pump house covering a water well on his property after his wife noticed the well spraying pressurized water.

Entering the pump house, Murray turned the pump on and was almost immediately hit by a fireball erupting from inside. With barely any time to push his father out of harm’s way, Murray took the brunt of the blast. He suffered severe burns and nerve damage. While some of his injuries took months to heal, much of the damage will be with him for the rest of his life. Murray was left with neurological damage that causes weakness in his arms and hands. It’s unclear when or even if he’ll be able to work again. In addition, Murray’s father and four-year-old daughter suffered first and second-degree burns and had to be hospitalized.

The family believes that they could easily have been killed in the blast.

“The skin was sloughing off his body,” attorney Chris Hamilton said “It’s a very sad case. It’s terrible.”

The defendants named in the suit were EOG Resources, Fairway Resources (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Goldman Sachs) and three Fairway subsidiaries.

Evidence of Wrongdoing

The Murrays hired Texas attorney Chris Hamilton to represent them in the matter, who immediately got to work investigating what had happened. Multiple active oil and gas wells surround the Murrays’ water well. High-level methane contamination was later proved by scientific testing. In addition, the Railroad Commission of Texas, Oil and Gas Division, in the course of its own investigation, found discrepancies in the maintenance records of nearby oil and gas wells.

“This is the first case I’ve ever had where none of my experts will accept compensation,” said Hamilton. “These guys won’t take any money because they’re totally in it for the science and they don’t want anyone to question their credibility.”

The owners of the oil and gas wells, offered up excuses as to why it seemed proper care hadn’t been given to the wells in question. However, those explanations were unconvincing.

As the Texas Tribune detailed, the studies found that methane and drilling mud chemicals had escaped from a poorly sealed Fairway gas well and traveled through underground fractures and eventually into the Murrays’ water supply.

The hired experts include Thomas Darrah, a geochemist at Ohio State University; Franklin Schwartz, an Ohio State University hydrologist; Zacariah Hildenbrand, chief scientific officer at Inform Environmental; and Anthony Ingraffea, a civil engineering professor at a Cornell University with expertise in fracking.

“The timing is undeniable, the location is undeniable, the chemistry of the gas is undeniable,” Chris Hamilton, the Murray’s attorney, told news station WFAA. “This is not naturally occurring gas. This is gas that came from 4 to 6-thousand feet below the ground.”

The Frackers Back Down

Hamilton filed a lawsuit against the oil and gas companies. Hamilton Wingo’s team of lawyers discovered that official records relating to one of the fracked wells didn’t add up. The well did not have sufficient casing to protect known groundwater, the company that drilled the wells did not put on the safety gauges required by state law to detect dangerous gas leaks from fracking. In addition to getting Murray and his family the help they needed, Hamilton Wingo wanted to prevent accidents like this one from happening in the future.

After Hamilton’s landmark case became what is believed to be the first case in Texas to successfully use geochemical fingerprints to scientifically link contamination of groundwater to a specific oil and gas well, the case resulted in a confidential settlement.

Unfortunately, Mr. Murray and his family may feel the effects of this tragedy for years to come. But he and his family now have the resources he needs to improve and have a better life.

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