DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Atmos Energy may have missed multiple warnings about dangers beneath a northwest Dallas neighborhood where a house explosion recently killed a 12-year-old girl, according to a CBS 11 I-Team investigation.
Linda Rogers was killed Feb. 23 when a natural gas explosion took out her home near Love Field.
“I’m afraid it can happen again,” said Lisa Martinez, who was asleep in her home next door when the house exploded. “We just don’t know.”
Martinez and her neighbors said for them the gas explosion came without warning but records show Atmos was aware of prior gas leaks in area.
In last two years, according to records the I-Team obtained through the Texas Public Information Act, Atmos responded to 54 gas leaks in the one and a half square mile area near the young girl’s home.
Based on an analysis of the data provided by the state’s regulating agency, three times as many leaks per mile of pipeline were reported in this area than usual for Atmos’ Mid-Tex system.
Among the causes Atmos crews reported for the leaks were third-party excavation accidents, pipe corrosion, ground movement, and stripped threads.
Stripped threads were cited as the cause of two leaks discovered in 2017 just doors from the site of the deadly explosion. One of these nearby leaks was classified as a grade one leak, meaning it was considered hazardous to people or property and needed to be repaired immediately.
In all, 16 of the 54 leaks in the area were ruled hazardous and were not the result of a construction accident. Atmos said all grade one leaks in neighborhood were repaired immediately upon detection.
In an email to the I-Team, Atmos wrote that the gas system in this area “had been operating safely for decades and was performing normally. In the days leading up to March 1, we began observing a sudden and unexplainable increase in leaks in this specific, defined geographical area that was unprecedented in the company’s history.”
Since the explosion, Atmos has been replacing the older steel pipes in the neighborhood with new durable plastic pipes.
The Texas Railroad Commission regulates and investigates pipeline safety in Texas. According to records obtain from the agency, the commission issued 17 violations to Atmos for its Dallas pipeline system in the past two years, including violations for not repairing hazardous leaks “promptly”.
Atmos said it corrected the violations found in both the Texas Railroad Commission’s 2016 and 2017 annual Dallas system audit.
The I-Team shared its findings with Tom Carse, an attorney who specializes in natural gas dangers. The data, he said, points to Atmos having plenty of warnings that the pipes in the northwest Dallas neighborhood needed replaced long before the deadly explosion.
“It should not have had to come to that,” Carse said. “It should have been fixed and addressed proactively.”
Hours before the February explosion, according to e-mails between Atmos and the Texas Railroad Commission, Atmos crews were investigating a gas leak directly behind Linda Rogers’ home. The utility company, however, did not evacuate neighbors or turn off the gas.
Atmos officials did not answer CBS 11’s questions regarding events prior to the deadly explosion.
“As for the days leading up to the incident on Espanola Drive, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is leading the investigation and is the contact for questions,” the company said in an email.
The federal agency has not released its final findings from the investigation.
Atmos officials said the recent leaks in the neighborhood were largely the result of shifting soil and heavy rain and could not be predicted.