OWASSO, Okla. - Max and Casey Murphy were thrilled when they purchased their first home in Owasso.
“We’re raising a family. We’re like 'this is perfect for our children,'” said Max Murphy.
But only a few months in, there was trouble.
“ONG knocked on the door, said 'we’ve got a gas leak. We’re going to have to put you in a hotel,'” said Murphy.
Max and Casey gathered their three little ones, and headed out. Cherokee, their youngest, was still an infant.
They spent 10 days in a hotel before ONG told them it wasn’t their agency’s problem.
“We’ve dug up all our lines, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy. It’s not us. We’re going to be sending you to a home with no gas,” said Murphy.
The methane levels at the Murphy’s home were too high for ONG to safely provide gas.
“No way to cook, no way to have hot water, no way to bathe, no way to heat the house,” said Murphy.
The family of five tried living like that for a while, then lived with relatives.
They eventually came back home and converted the house to electric.
But the gas is still leaking, seeping up through the ground.
If they hold a flame over a crack in their driveway, it ignites and burns for quite a while... Standing rain water bubbles from the gas rising up.
And three more houses on the Murphy’s street have also since had their gas service shut down because of the methane leak.
“The developer checked for wells in that area, found a number, and then had them plugged to modern standards,” said Matt Skinner with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
The Corporation Commission dug up the Murphy’s front yard trying to find the source of the methane gas, but couldn’t trace it to any of those wells.
They say it’s a possibility there’s another one down there they don’t know about and can’t find.
“Could there be a well there that we have no records on? Absolutely,” said Skinner.
“We never knew that there was 24 confirmed capped wells in the area until the OCC had disclosed that to us and told us about that. Had we knew that all along, we wouldn’t have bought this house,” said Murphy.
And the Murphys are not alone.
In Ponca City, the Wall family has been out of their house for more than two years now because of a methane gas leak.
The Corporation Commission has investigated that one, as well.
“This is just a huge gas field that was capped by a natural formation and a crack has developed and that’s allowed this gas to come up to the surface,” said Skinner.
“I think as more properties come up with underground storage tank, hopefully we can find a solution that will provide greater protection to consumers in Oklahoma,” said Charla Slabotsky, the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Real Estate
Slabotsky says a realtor has to disclose if there are any underground storage tanks or abandoned wells under a home.
Someone selling by owner or a developer does not have to disclose that.
“There’s no requirement on a developer who’s selling a vacant piece of land to disclose any of this information,” said Slabotsky.
“There’s something unfair here that builders should also disclose just as much as realtors do,” said State Senator Gary Stanislawski.
Sen. Stanislawski proposed a bill last session that would make that law.
A citizen came to him who built a million dollar home in Oak Tree in Oklahoma City. When they went to put in a swimming pool they found they couldn’t, because of an old capped well.
“And if the builder did know and did not disclose it, if they’re the ones doing the subdivision and selling you a piece of property and knew, that’s wrong,” said Stanislawski.
That couple sued Oak Tree and a developer because they did not “disclose to plaintiffs that a plugged oil well was hidden underneath the soil.”
The plaintiffs alleged, even though there was no leak, the very presence of that well severely diminished their home’s value.
They ended up settling.
“If it were me, I would always check to see what might be underneath that property,” said Skinner.
Corporation Commission officials say they can provide potential buyers with records and, often, cities will have records as well.
“We did an inspection. We thought we were good, you know... no, no,” said Murphy. “Never did we fathom that we’d have to worry about what lurks below.”
Max and Casey say it’s been a two-year-long nightmare being on pins and needles in their own home.
“We’ve almost been pushed to divorce. We’ve almost separated because we blame each other. It’s been one hell of a ride,” said Murphy.
Their three children have to have breathing treatments every night. They believe it’s because of the gas leak.
And they’ve finally decided to just walk away from the home. They feel they have no other choice.
“Do we continue to pay on this house and keep fighting this until our marriage completely falls apart or one of our children don’t wake up?” said Murphy.
They don’t know what will happen to the home.
“I pray to God that no one else buys it,” said Casey.
And they hope their story serves as a warning to other potential home buyers to always check for what could be lurking beneath.