DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – As thousands of Dallas homeowners prepare to be without gas for weeks, the CBS 11 I-Team uncovers warnings dating back years about Atmos Energy’s aging gas pipes.
Atmos executives called the widespread gas leaks in the North Dallas neighborhood “unprecedented”, blaming the leaks on the heavy rains and the expansive soil in the area.
However, the former head of pipeline safety for the U.S. Department of Transportation told the I-Team the situation in the North Dallas neighborhood points to years of Atmos not been doing enough to keep its gas lines up to date.
“From what I’ve seen so far it doesn’t appear as if Atmos is in any hurry to get some of these older lines out of the ground,” said Brigham McCown, former Administrator for Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. “There tends to be in the utility industry this run to failure mentality. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
In 2010, when eight people were killed and 38 homes destroyed in a gas explosion in San Bruno, California, federal safety regulators strongly urged utility companies to replace its old pipes.
A year later, the Railroad Commission of Texas set new rules for replacing leaking gas lines.
A spokesperson for the Railroad Commission of Texas told the I-Team as a part of its on-going investigation into the gas leaks in the North Dallas neighborhood, it is still determining whether Atmos was in compliance of its rules.
Every year the Railroad Commission conducts more than a hundred audits on Atmos’ system but neither the Commission nor Atmos officials could say when the last audit was done on the pipes in the impacted North Dallas neighborhood.
In the utility company’s latest annual report, Atmos Energy Mid-Tex reported 11,144 leaks repaired in 2016. The number one cause of leaks for its mainlines was “corrosion failure.”
Atmos says it’s spending more than a billion dollars a year upgrading its infrastructure but records show more than a third of its main lines are still older than 75 years old.
Last year, Atmos replaced 22,600 service lines and 410 miles of distribution lines in Texas, according to the company’s spokesperson Jennifer Altieri.
Since 2010, Atmos has raised rates six times to help pay for these upgrades.