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Fracked
Fracked.jpg
Season 11
Number 8
Writer David Weddle,
Bradley Thompson
Director Martha Coolidge
Original Airdate November 11, 2010
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Previous Episode: Bump and Grind
Next Episode: Wild Life

Fracked is the eighth episode in season eleven of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Synopsis

Two men are murdered just before exposing a natural gas company for poisoning residents in a farming town, and the CSIs must discover who is responsible for their deaths.

Plot

Victims: Walter Burns (deceased), Richard Adams (deceased)

On the case: entire team

Three teens go skinny dipping in a sulfur spring and are horrified when a dead body floats to the surface. At the scene the following day, Langston spots a wound on the victim's head consistent with a pistol butt. He concludes that the victim was dead before he hit the water or very soon after. Based on the liver temperature, the victim has been dead for four to seven hours. Nick spots a tear in the victim's shirt and later finds finds a fresh motor oil deposit near the teens' vehicle, indicating that whoever was parked there had a leak.

In autopsy, Doc Robbins tells Catherine that their victim had a myriad of diseases, but that his cause of death is drowning. When water is drawn from the victim's vocal folds, they find that it does not match the water Langston collected at the spring, meaning the victim drowned somewhere else.

The victim's fingerprints come back to Walter Burns, who owns a ranch in Cable Springs, not far from where his body was found. A search of his ranch turns up nothing, and his truck is missing. Walter's wife had passed away the year before, and he had recently been in frequent contact with Rosalind Johnson, the editor of the Cable Springs Courier.

Langston and Brass question Rosalind, who tells them that Walter was a source for a story she's working on; however, she refuses to give details. When told that Walter is dead, she relents just a little, telling them that she and Walter talked about Cable Springs, Walter's health and his ranch. Langston tells her that Walter's body was covered in systemic lesions. Rosalind then asks for the autopsy report, but is denied this when she once again refuses to discuss the story she's working on. Before she leaves, she tells Langston and Brass that Walter's wife was also sick before she died, something the team should look into.

An Escalade is towed to the CSI garage. Archie tells Greg and Nick that it's part of Walter's case, despite the fact that Walter drove a pickup truck. A search of the vehicle's GPS shows that the registered owner, Richard Adams, drove to Walter's ranch six times not too long ago; however, it was not at the sulfur springs. There's blood on the outside of the vehicle, while Nick finds an expended 9mm cartridge casing inside. The CSIs are puzzled at how a gun was fired inside the vehicle, but didn't leave much blood behind. When they find amylase bubbles (which contain saliva), they hypothesize that the victim, possibly Richard, was forced out of the vehicle at gunpoint by someone in the passenger's seat. He was then shot while standing outside, which caused him to cough up blood on the outside of the vehicle.

Nick and Det. Frankie Reed head to a rundown motel off of Fremont Street, which is the last location listed in Richard's GPS. Det. Reed informs Nick that Richard works as an engineer for a gas company, Conservo Solutions, and that his office is in Cable Springs. Evidence shows that Richard was abducted from his office, driven to Vegas and shot, which indicates premeditation. They find some blood drops, which eventually leads to a large blood pool with a skull fragment in it. Nick guesses that Richard was already lying on the ground when he was shot a second time. There's a spent 9mm cartridge casing near the blood pool, consistent with the casing found in the Escalade. Bloody drag marks lead Nick and Det. Reed to Richard's body, which has been hidden under some garbage. When Det. Reed calls the most recent number on Richard's cell phone, she discovers that he was calling Rosalind Johnson. Two people Rosalind was interviewing have now turned up dead in the last 24 hours.

Nick talks with Richard's wife, Lisa, who tells Nick that Richard had been on edge for weeks and was convinced that someone was following him. She says that Richard was a safety inspector for Conservo Solutions. The company was drilling for natural gas in the area and his job was to go around to the ranches and makes sure there weren't any problems. When Nick mentions Rosalind, Lisa says that the pushy reporter wouldn't leave Richard alone, calling him all the time for the story she's working on. Lisa says that Rosalind is convinced that the drilling isn't kosher; however, she then clams up, citing the nondisclosure agreement she signed with the company. When asked if she was threatened, Lisa shows Nick a severed goat head that was left on her front porch one day before her husband was murdered.

Back in autopsy, Langston determines that the goat head was (thankfully) severed after the goat was already dead. When the head is opened up, he and Doc Robbins find that it has the same lesions that Walter was exhibiting. Both Walter and the goat have the same gross pathology, and both have connections to Cable Springs and to Richard Adams.

Greg tests the box the goat head was packaged in and finds it negative for human blood; however, there's a bloody fingerprint on the inside of the box's lid. Archie shows Greg and Nick pictures from Richard's cell phone, and one of them is of the goat, which was completely intact. Data shows that the photo was taken at a ranch right down the road from Walter's property, and Nick goes to check the place out.

Langston, Nick and Det. Reed arrive at Gibson Ranch, finding that Conservo Solutions is drilling right in the backyard. The owner, Bill Gibson, has lived on the property for 40 years and has no priors. Nick finds no oil leak in the parked truck, and Det. Reed notes how rundown and nonoperational the ranch is. As they make their way around the back of the ranch, a rifle shot is heard. The trio find that Bill has shot another one of his goats. With a cigarette in his mouth, Bill explains that his goat was sick and denies killing anyone or leaving a goat head on anyone's porch. He says that Conservo Solutions paid him a mere $50,000 for his mineral rights, which only paid for one round of his wife's chemotherapy. Many people in the neighborhood got sick and died, but complaints fell on deaf ears. To prove what's happening, Bill walks over to his water well and drops his cigarette down it, creating a large explosion that kills him in the process.

A search of the well turns up no explosive devices, but the CSIs know that water isn't supposed to blow up like that. When Langston fills up a jug with some water, he and Nick notice that it's bubbling, something well water isn't supposed to do. They smell a chemical odor in the water; however, the main component in natural gas is methane, which is odorless. Knowing that methane is flammable, Langston turns on the spigot and puts a blowtorch to the running water, turning it into flame. The water contains methane and other components, which are likely the cause of all the illnesses in the neighborhood.

In his office, Langston speaks with Rosalind off the record. He tells her things she already knows - the water is poisoned, which has caused illness and death for many in Cable Springs. Richard, who ran the safety inspections for Conservo Solutions, knew about the problem, which means that Conservo knew, as well. Rosalind tells Langston that both Walter and Bill found out a year ago that Conservo was taking shortcuts and ignoring safety protocols. Langston looks at Rosalind and asks her if she's been to her doctor recently. She responds that he can read about it in her article and tells Langston to research the process known as "fracking."

The water sample from Bill's water well tests positive for a number of chemicals, including benzene. Doc Robbins tells Hodges that all of the chemicals listed are implicated in cardiovascular and respiratory disorder, endocrine disruption, gastroenterological failure, and nerve and urinary system destruction. The doc is able to confirm that Walter was suffering from metastatic carcinoma, the same thing that killed both his wife and Bill's wife. Hodges' report shows that the water drawn from Walter's vocal folds contained the same toxins as the poisoned water, but in much higher concentrations, indicating that he may have drowned in that water.

Catherine tries to get Ecklie to warn the people of Cable Springs, but he's extremely hesitant. Meanwhile, Langston researches fracking and discovers that it's a process used to obtain natural gas from shale rock. It involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into a drilled hole, which breaks up the shale rock and releases natural gas. The chemicals that get pumped up are supposed to be pumped into an evaporation pool and if the rest of the chemicals remain underground, methane in the fracking fluid can enter the groundwater. Langston discovers that Conservo started drilling in 2005 and haven't been bound by any governmental acts. Ecklie still refuses to press forward until Langston tells him that the motor oil found at the springs is from a commercial-grade truck. The only commercial fleet in Cable Springs belongs to Conservo Solutions. Catherine presents Ecklie with all the evidence the team has gathered and orders him to get a warrant.

With warrant in hand, Langston and Nick head to Conservo's base of operations. While Nick searches the undercarriage of the trucks, Langston looks at a map and notices an evaporation pool, an obvious indication of fracking. Nick finds no evidence under the trucks, but spots a piece of fabric stuck in the top of a nearby fence. The fabric is consistent with the hole in the shirt Walter was wearing when his body was found, indicating that he hopped the fence at some point. Remembering that Bill had said Walter was going to get proof that Conservo was poisoning the water, the CSIs figure that the evidence is in the nearby evaporation pool. They hypothesize that Walter hopped the fence, was caught sneaking around and was hit in the head with the butt of a gun. He then fell into the evaporation pool and drowned in the poisoned water.

Greg calls Langston and tells him that the truck with the oil leak has been located - complete with a 9mm gun and blood in the cab and a dead Conservo driver nearby, the victim of a hit-and-run. Upon processing the truck, Greg finds evidence that someone loosed a tire valve, causing a slow leak. He guesses that someone set up the trucker, Cody Trimble, to get a flat. When he got out to fix the flat, he was hit by an oncoming truck.

Nick test fires a gun at a model head on the ground and gets blood spatter consistent with what was found on Cody's gun. The bullets and cartridge casings from Richard's Escalade and the alley where he was shot are a match. Furthermore, there's some blood and hair on Cody's gun that's consistent with Walter's head wound. Langston and Nick once again conclude that Walter was caught sneaking onto Conservo's property to get a water sample, was hit over the head by Cody and drowned in the evaporation pool. This is confirmed further when the blood in Cody's truck matches Walter. The CSIs wonder why Cody, who had no priors, would go through all of this trouble only to be killed by the company he works for.

After meeting with Conservo's lawyers, Ecklie tells Catherine and Brass that the case is closed; the team got the evidence and caught the killer. He refuses to let the CSIs get a water sample from the evaporation pool because there isn't going to be a trial. Catherine and Brass, who are beside themselves, know that someone with deep pockets paid Cody to kill two people, then disposed of him to keep the whole thing quiet. Ecklie continues to say that they have no evidence of Conservo's wrongdoing, and Catherine replies that there are hundreds of Bill Gibsons out there who lost everything due to the company's practices. The only leeway Ecklie gives is in relation to the hit-and-run case, as he tells Catherine to leave it open and report any findings.

Langston meets Rosalind in private once again. He tells her that Walter was caught trying to get a sample from the evaporation pool, something she tried to talk him out of doing. Richard was her insider, and he was going to provide her with the corporate documents that proved that Conservo knew they were polluting the water and chose to cover it up. Rosalind, who is also sick, insists on publishing her findings to date, even if it means that Conservo will shut her newspaper down. Langston informs her of a clinical trial that his friend is starting and tells her that a spot is being held open for her. She silently accepts and walks away into the night.

Cast

Main Cast

Guest Cast

  • Archie Kao as Archie Johnson
  • Marc Vann as Conrad Ecklie
  • Katee Sackhoff as Detective Frankie Reed
  • Angela Bettis as Rosalind Johnson
  • Henry G. Sanders as Bill Gibson
  • Megan Ward as Lisa Adams
  • Colby Paul as Scott
  • Matthew Atkinson as Barry
  • David Courvoisier as Himself
  • Christopher Goodman as Richard Adams (victim)
  • Richard Gunn as Cody Trimble
  • Christina Masterson as Lexie
  • Tim Mikulecky as Walter Burns (victim)

Notes

  • Jorja Fox (Sara) is credited but does not appear in the episode, contrary to her filmography on iMDb.

Trivia

  • After hearing about fracking, Raymond Langston suggests that it sounds like a sci-fi expletive. He's right: Frak is an expletive from the remake series of Battlestar Galactica.
  • When Catherine pushes to continue the investigation, Ecklie tells her that she's "no Erin Brockovich", to which Catherine makes a face. Marg Helgenberger co-starred as Donna Jensen in the 2000 film, Erin Brockovich.
  • The episode was inspired by the Hinkley Ground Water Contamination Case. From 1952 to 1966, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, had been pumping 370 million gallons of chromium-tainted wastewater into the wastewater pools around the town of Hinkley, California. This resulted in an investigation by Erin Brockovich in 1993, which led to a class-action lawsuit filed by Brockovich in 1996 against the PG&E and resulted in the largest cash settlement in US history of $333 million.
  • This episode contains references to the 1928 Broadway play "The Front Page" by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and derivative movies based on it. These movies were made in 1931, in 1940 as "His Girl Friday", in 1974, and finally in 1988 as "Switching Channels". In the story, the chief editor of the newspaper was Walter Burns, same name as the first victim. His ace reporter Hildebrand "Hildy" Johnson was recast as female in both "His Girl Friday" and "Switching Channels". In "His Girl Friday", Hildy (short for Hildegard) was played by Rosalind Russell, while the reporter here is named Rosalind Johnson.

See Also

CSI:Las Vegas Season 11
Shock WavesPool SharkBlood MoonSqweegelHouse of HoardersCold BloodedBump and GrindFrackedWild Life418/427Man UpA Kiss Before FryingThe Two Mrs. GrissomsAll That CremainsTargets of ObsessionTurn On, Tune In, Drop DeadThe ListHitting for the CycleUnleashedFather of the BrideCello and GoodbyeIn a Dark, Dark House
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