Burn Injury Attorneys Investigate Abandoned and Unplugged Oil and Gas Wells

Negligence at the Origin of the Explosion

Deadly explosions and fires linked to abandoned oil and gas wells in the United States are a serious problem – a threat to public safety that persists despite government investigations and badly needed litigation by explosion lawyers.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), our country is dotted with 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells – many unplugged. Old gathering lines from those wells also present a hazard. States with the largest exposures include Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Ohio, Louisiana, New York, California, New Mexico and West Virginia.

The burn injury lawyers at the Pritzker Hageman law firm have won more than $100 million in recent years on behalf of families in need of help due to negligence by fossil fuel providers and their subcontractors. The law firm’s fire and explosion legal team navigates the complex court system and battles insurance companies to obtain the compensation deserved by burn survivors. Burns and explosion injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, are in categories all their own. For instance, Pritzker Hageman handled a pipeline explosion lawsuit for a young father and his wife when he suffered life-changing burns to his body in a pipeline accident in Pennsylvania. The settlement totaled $45 million.

Accountability and Prevention

Prevention matters most and the threat of litigation helps motivate oil and gas companies to address the hazard of uncapped wells. The ongoing danger has compelled state and federal agencies to take new steps toward mitigation and abatement.

This year or early in 2024, the EPA will finalize a new rule requiring oil and gas companies to plug abandoned wells. The agency proposed the rule late in 2021 and accepted public comments for months afterward. As originally proposed, the rule would require oil and gas companies to identify and plug all of their abandoned wells within two years of the rule being finalized. The rule may also require oil and gas companies to assure the EPA that there’s enough money to complete the work, even if they go out of business. Already in Ohio, the state announced it will partner with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association to plug 1,000 abandoned oil and gas wells over the next two years.

Contact the Pritzker Hageman Burn Injury Lawyers

Phone: 1-888-377-8900 | Text: 612-261-0856

Our award-winning fire and explosion legal team handles cases for clients in every state in the country.

Gas Leak Explosions from Abandoned Wells

The human danger of stray gas leaking from old infrastructure hits horribly hard. The following is a list of some of the biggest oil well blowouts in the United States.

  • In Firestone, Colorado, in 2017, two men were killed and a third was seriously injured when a methane gas explosion occurred in the basement of a home being built near an abandoned oil well. The well had been inactive for over a year, but a damaged flowline allowed methane to leak into the basement, where it ignited and caused a devastating explosion.
  • In Bakersfield, California, in 2021, a house exploded and residents were evacuated from an entire neighborhood when elevated levels of methane were detected. The source was traced to a cluster of abandoned oil wells that were leaking gas. Fearing other explosions, authorities investigated and plugged all leaks.
  • In Louisiana in 2013, an explosion killed two people and destroyed several homes in Evangeline Parish. Investigators determined that the explosion was caused by methane gas that had leaked from an abandoned oil well.
  • In Oklahoma City in 2019, an explosion destroyed a home and injured five people. Investigators linked it to stray gas that leaked from an abandoned oil well.
  • In Texas in 2022, a near-disaster happened in an open field near a settlement of houses when leaking methane caused a gas explosion so powerful that it left a crater in the earth. It was linked to a failed, abandoned gas gathering line.
  • In Fayette County, Pennsylvania, in 2014 three people were injured in an explosion traced to methane gas that leaked from an abandoned oil well.
  • In Ohio in 2015, an explosion in Harrison County destroyed a home and injured two people. Investigators determined that the explosion was caused by methane gas that had leaked from an abandoned oil well.

Investigating Gas Explosion Sources

As the health risks and environmental concerns of methane emissions from these wells become more apparent, it is likely that more states will take action without relying wholly on the EPA.

In New Mexico, for instance, the state Environmental Improvement Division has been conducting aerial surveys of abandoned oil and gas wells to identify potential methane gas leaks. The surveys have already identified hundreds of leaking wells.

Elsewhere, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is conducting a statewide inventory of abandoned oil and gas wells. The inventory has already identified tens of thousands of problematic wells and the department is working to plug them.

In Texas, the state Railroad Commission has been investigating abandoned oil and gas wells for potential leaks. The commission has found many potential explosion sources and has been working to erase those threats.

Besides being a flammable gas, methane is a greenhouse gas. Thankfully for health and safety reasons, the fight against climate change has multiplied the attention being paid to abandoned facilities.

Mounting Liability for Oil and Gas Companies

Homes surrounding an oil well in Colorado.

Of course, not all abandoned wells will leak or explode. In fact, the vast majority of abandoned wells are never involved in any incidents. However, there is a growing number of vacated facilities and the estimated liability for oil and gas companies due to explosions is difficult to quantify. Some estimates have suggested total liability for the companies could be in the billions of dollars.

A 2019 study by the environmental group Earthworks estimated that the cost of plugging and remediating all orphaned wells in the United States could be as high as $500 billion. A 2020 report by the Colorado Energy Office found that the state could face a liability of up to $1 billion for cleaning up abandoned wells.

Some observers have called on the industry to provide financial assistance for states and local municipalities to remediate orphaned wells. This is why it is important for oil and gas companies to take responsibility for their wells and plug them properly when they are no longer in use.

Taken all together, relentless pressure from regulators, citizens’ groups, and oil and gas explosion attorneys makes a difference in the fight against stray, flammable gasses left behind by fossil fuel providers.

Talk to an Experienced Burn Injury Attorney

Pritzker Hageman is one of the few law firms in the country with experience representing burn survivors and their families in fire and explosion lawsuits. Our legal team has won groundbreaking verdicts and settlements for our burn survivor clients, including some of the biggest recoveries in American history. If you would like to talk to an explosion lawyer about your case, please call 1-888-377-8900, text 612-261-0856, or fill out the form below for a free, no-obligation consultation.