Methane leak keeps family out of home two years later

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PONCA CITY, Okla. - Every day, Chris Wall drives up to his house on S. 5th St.

He gets out of his pickup truck with a hand-carved number in hand and strolls toward a wooden oil derrick he crafted and placed on his front lawn.

"Another day," he says to himself, taking a '5' off a wooden peg and replacing it with a '6,' marking time.

It's been 756 days since a mysterious methane gas leak forced Wall and his family of six to leave.

"Not one day do I wake up and have any certainty in my life. 757 days ago, everything was fine. There was certainty. I was certain I’d wake up the next morning and be home," Wall said. "Today, I don’t know where my home is going to be. I don’t know where my holidays are going to be spent this year. I wouldn’t put this hell on anybody, not even my worst enemy."

It's been a long, frustrating road for the Wall family.

Oklahoma Natural Gas first showed up in 2006 after high levels of methane were first detected.

The gas is not toxic but is highly flammable, so it can be dangerous to have utilities connected.

In 2013, the family was moved to a motel, where they stayed for 75 days as the Oklahoma Corporation Commission investigated the leak.

More than two years later, the source of the methane leak is still a mystery, and the Wall family is still moving from rental home to rental home.

"We still live in boxes. We’ve tried not to live in boxes, but there’s nowhere to put our things," Wall said. "And, for me to call that home, I can’t. Not a picture on the wall in here."

The cabinet space in the kitchen is almost non-existent.

A refrigerator straddles two adjacent doorways.

A daughter's bedroom is where the dining room should be.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission said help may finally be on the way though, with the aid of a new law that took effect in July, allowing the commission to tap a well plugging fund  for money to respond to natural gas leaks.

Spokesman Matt Skinner said the commission is putting the finishing touches on a bid to install an approximately $20,000 ventilation system under the Wall's home.

The bidding process could wrap up within two weeks, and Skinner said he hopes a crew can be on-site before the end of the year.

Skinner said he doesn't blame Wall a bit for being frustrated with the process, admitting it has taken longer than he hoped.

But, Skinner said the process is cumbersome and the commission can't take any shortcuts as it works its way through something that it has never done before.

Meanwhile, Wall continues to stop by the home he loves, keeping up the grounds as he waits for a solution.

"I’m not going away. It’s not an option," Wall said. "The house is paid off. It’s the largest asset I own, and it’s my home. It’s where I brought my kids up. I’ve got four children, and they were raised right here. I’m going to bring them home."

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