‘These are tears of joy’: After two years, forced-out Ponca City family returns home

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PONCA CITY, Okla. - The Walls family knows exactly how long it's been since it could truly call its house a "home."

A homemade, wooden oil derrick has tallied each of the 960 days since a mysterious methane leak forced Chris Walls and his family out.

"It’s been a living hell," said Walls. "You’re kind of living in your own prison. But I’m breaking out. I’m done."

Finally, Walls, his wife, and two remaining minor children are moving back in.

Friday, they spent the afternoon cleaning the carpets and sprucing up the walls, cabinets and windows with fresh coats of paint.

His children can finally move back into the rooms they left behind. Their parents will no longer have to pay rent.

Initially, as crews tried to find the source of the leak, several businesses and organizations put the family up in motels. Eventually, the family rented a home nearby, as the calendar hit two years later, and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission searched for a solution.

The OCC settled on a plan to install a "Vapor Extraction System" beneath the family's driveway, to circulate the methane out from beneath the home. Officials said they had never had a similar remediation effort fail.

Today, there are still traces of methane around the property, but the family is convinced the property is safe enough and is switching to all-electric appliances to minimize the risk.

Walls says he's still extremely dissatisfied with the Corporation Commission and its work. He says the agency "failed him," even though the problem isn't as bad as it once was.

"The glass is half full but there’s still that half-empty glass that needs to be filled up," he said. "Just because I’m home doesn’t mean it’s finished. It don’t mean anybody’s job is done. It means I can move on to my next battle."

What that next battle is isn't entirely clear. But over 960 days, Walls said the biggest thing he learned is "how much we need each other."

"I wouldn’t give these guys for for nothing," Walls said of his family. "I wouldn’t have gotten this far without them."

For now, Walls just wants to enjoy a weekend with the people he loves in the home he missed so dearly.

He says he's most looking forward to sitting in his back yard and sleeping under a ceiling fan.

"I’ve been wanting this too bad," he said. "This is my home. Nobody can take this from me."