FAMILY sues Oneok in Hutchinson gas explosion deaths - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

FAMILY sues Oneok in Hutchinson gas explosion deaths


HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) _ The family of a couple killed in a natural gas explosion in Hutchinson has filed two lawsuits against Oneok Inc. and its subsidiaries, claiming the companies knowingly operated the natural gas storage field in an unsafe manner.

The four adult children of John and Mary Ann Hahn, the couple killed in the mobile home park explosion, say the company operated the storage field at higher pressure than allowed by state regulations. And the lawsuit claims that the state limit was the highest in the nation for that type of facility.

On Jan. 14, a pipe broke in a natural gas storage well belonging to Oneok and its subsidiary, Kansas Gas Service.

State investigators believe the gas traveled underground about seven miles and surfaced several days later through abandoned salt mines underneath Hutchinson, including the mobile home park where the Hahns lived. Their home was destroyed and both were severely burned. Both died within days of the blast.

Thomas Borrego, the Hahns' godson and executor of the estate, said the family filed the lawsuit to learn more about what happened.

``The family's main goal is to find out what actually occurred and to hold whoever is responsible for this accountable,'' he said.

Kansas Gas Service declined to comment Wednesday on the lawsuit. The company has not admitted a connection between the leak at its storage field and the explosions in Hutchinson.

``There are a lot of unanswered questions,'' said Jay Fowler, the Wichita attorney who filed the lawsuits on behalf of the Hahn family. ``We think we have a good understanding of what happened, and that suggests that Oneok and Kansas Gas were responsible. It shouldn't have happened, and they should have had procedures in place to prevent it from happening.''

The lawsuits seek at least $75,000 for each death.

Fowler declined to say at what pressure Oneok operated the storage field. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also declined to comment on the claims and has not released operating records obtained from the company.

The lawsuit claims the company spent $10 million to expand the storage field but did nothing to improve safety.

Fowler also said that to save money the company never fully tested the well, even though it was damaged in 1993 when workers tried to reopen it and drill out old cement. The well had been plugged and filled with cement in 1989 after the original owner went bankrupt.

The KDHE said last week that the leak and subsequent explosions most likely were the result of damage done to the well in 1993 when it was reopened.

Three other lawsuits have been filed in Reno County District Court by Hutchinson residents and business owners. Those lawsuits have been consolidated into one case. The lawyers are seeking permission to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all property owners in Reno County.

In a separate development, Kansas Gas Service has revised its estimate of the amount of natural gas that leaked out of its storage field in January.

The company says it lost between 120 million and 166 million cubic feet of gas, nearly double the original estimate of 73 million cubic feet.

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