Atmos Energy, state officials, blasted over explosion report

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on May 10, 2010 at 11:05 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 11 at 4:43 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

The Texas Railroad Commission says Atmos Energy has violated state and federal laws in its response to a house explosion in Mesquite last November.

Not only did Atmos fail to investigate the initial blast, officials said, but they have failed to maintain the safety of their gas lines throughout Mesquite, where 78 leaks have been discovered in one neighborhood in the last nine  months. 

The report, just released by the Texas Railroad Commission, blames — yet again — a faulty compression coupling for the November explosion.

These are the same deadly couplings News 8 has been investigating for the past three years

But now, one state lawmaker is not only blaming Atmos, also but state regulators for not ordering the removal of these couplings years ago.

It has been nearly six months since Kristi Samons of Mesquite survived a natural gas explosion in her home. A faulty compression coupling on a main line beneath the alley leaked gas into her home,  causing it to explode.

While Atmos Energy has agreed to help pay for a new house, they have conceded little else.

In fact, according to The Texas Railroad Commission — the agency that regulates the natural gas industry in Texas —   Atmos failed to properly investigate the explosion.

The incident took place on on November 20. Atmos finally discovered the leak 17 days later, along with three other leaks.

Four days later, Atmos discovered 24 more leaks.

The following month, another 34 leaks were uncovered —  all in the same neighborhood —  for a total of 60 natural gas leaks.

What's more, according to the report, Atmos had discovered 18 leaks in the same neighborhood last summer.

Samons believes that proves Atmos knew the risks four months before her house exploded with her in it.

"I am flabbergasted at the things that I've read. I've been left speechless and I'm appalled," Samons said.

The Railroad Commission report cites Atmos Energy for four major violations of federal safety laws and cites the need for Atmos to "recondition or phase out their older steel service lines."

But as News 8 has reported, there are an estimated three million of the questionable compression couplings under the Texas soil.

The faulty couplings have been blamed for house explosions, deaths, and injuries all over North Texas — most recently in Wylie, Cleburne and Irving.

Thus far there's no indication that Texas Railroad Commissioners have any plans to order the couplings be removed, and a recent attempt to discuss the issue with Railroad Commissioner Victor Carillo was not well received.

It's that kind of reaction from Railroad Commissioners that has upset State Rep. Robert Miklos, (D-Mesquite). He is calling for the removal of all the questionable couplings.

"They are disintegrating all over North Texas, and Atmos and the Railroad Commission know that; they know that these are all disintegrating," Miklos said. "Every place that they go they look into this, they find leaks all over the neighborhoods, but they are doing nothing about it until after the fact."

Both Miklos and Samons say that what is being done is not nearly enough.

Samons says she won't rest until that changes. "I want action; I want things done; and I want someone to pay attention, because I'm not going away," she said.

"Atmos Energy is committed to providing safe, reliable natural gas service to the communities we serve," said Atmos Energy spokesman Ray Granado in a written statement. "We are reviewing the report and will respond in a timely and appropriate manner."

Atmos is subject to a fine of up to $10,000 a day per violation if the deficiencies aren't fixed.

It's worth noting, however, that in all the cases involving coupling failures, injuries and deaths in the last three years, the Texas Railroad Commission has yet to fine Atmos one penny.

Editor's note: This is the latest development in a story WFAA has covered over three years. It began with our investigation into a house explosion, which has now resulted in over 500,000 steel lines and compression couplings being removed.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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