Jury Awards $20 Million for Oklahoma Gas Well Blast

Smoke billows from the site of a gas well fire near Quinton, Okla., on Jan. 22, 2018. (Kevin Harvison/The McAlester News-Capital via AP)

MCALESTER, Okla. (CN) — An Oklahoma jury awarded $10 million each to the families of two men who died in a natural gas well explosion that killed five in 2018 — the deadliest drilling incident since the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 people a decade ago.

A Pittsburg County jury found Tuesday in favor of the relatives of Josh Ray, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Cody Risk of Wellington, Colorado. Jurors rejected arguments that Ray contributed to the explosion and found him faultless. They assigned 10% fault to National Oilwell Varco, 30% to Patterson-UTI Energy and 60% to Red Mountain Energy.

Ray’s wife, Sarah, sued the companies two years ago, claiming an uncontrolled release of gas on Jan. 22, 2018, in Quinton happened when an entire assembly of pipe was removed from a well.

“When the well began to flow in an uncontrolled manner and the natural gas was released from the well, it mixed with oxygen in the atmosphere which then ignited[,] causing an explosion and fire,” the complaint stated. “Incredibly, the men who were working at the location in charge of supervising and directing all drilling operations, Red Mountain’s company men, were holding expired well control certificates.”

Ray’s attorney, Jeff Wigington of Wigington Rumley, said it was “not about the money” for his clients.

“It was about taking the case to the jury and allowing it to apportion responsibility,” he told The Oklahoman newspaper. “And it was very important for the Ray family to clear the name of Josh Ray because they [were] blaming him for the death of his friends.”

National Oilwell Varco attorney John Zavitsanos said the “jury has spoken” and that the defendants “very much respect” its time.

“Our hear goes out to both these families and I wish neither side was here and I wish this had never happened,” he told the McAlester News-Capital.

Parker Waldridge of Crescent, Matt Smith of McAlester and Roger Cunningham of Seminole were also killed in the explosion. Their families had previously entered into settlements.

The seat of Pittsburg County, McAlester, is about 90 miles south of Tulsa.

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