Atmos claims system is safe despite leaks, concerns

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on February 22, 2013 at 11:46 PM

Updated Saturday, Feb 23 at 2:27 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

DALLAS -- Atmos Energy is officially denying it violated state safety regulations in connection with a 2011 Dallas house explosion that critically injured three people.

That explosion and the decaying cast iron pipes involved are the subject of a News 8 investigation. And while Atmos says it exceeds all federal and state pipeline safety standards, serious questions are still being raised.

Among those raising new questions is Sheik Tahuti of Dallas. He pointed us to an old natural gas Atmos pipeline, precariously perched across a ravine on his land, 50 feet in the air, anchored by a rusty cable.

"This is just ridiculous,” Tahuti said. “If only it had a support under the bottom, because everything's dependent on a cable holding tons that don't have any support."

The pipeline is located just a few yards from Tehuti's horse stables and the grounds where children ride ponies every week. He was so upset, he produced a video expressing his terror anytime the creek floods and debris comes crashing up against the pipe.

Atmos has not responded to our questions about this pipe, but it has responded to pipeline regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission about the September 18, 2011, gas explosion that critically injured Domingo Mendez, his wife, and little boy.

A few feet from the Mendez' destroyed home near Interstate 35 and Illinois Avenue in Dallas, gas crews discovered an 80-year-old, decaying, cast-iron pipe with a 19-inch crack in it. The state cited Atmos for violating safety standards by "not having a cast-iron replacement program in place."

The Mendez family attorney has sued and settled with Atmos over the explosion and the leaking cast-iron pipe.

"This was absolutely a preventable accident,” Miller said. “The entire industry, including Atmos, has known for decades that these pipes corrode."

Atmos' response to the safety violation has just been filed with the state. Atmos contends, "natural gas leaking from the gas main did not cause the [Mendez] explosion." Atmos maintains, ”a leak behind the [kitchen] gas range is the probably leak source." And despite the age and condition of the cast-iron pipe that was leaking gas prior to the explosion, Atmos tell Railroad Commission officials, "there was nothing to suggest this segment of pipe needed to be replaced."

Atmos said it has replaced 144 miles of cast-iron pipe in its Texas system over the past 12 years. Yet, 841 miles of cast iron remains in the ground, most of it in older neighborhoods in Dallas, Fort Worth, and the Park Cities.

Atmos said it will continue to survey and monitor its system and replace any segments it feels are unsafe.

Meanwhile, Tahuti wants to know if the old pipeline on his property is not unsafe, then what is?

"This is a time bomb in my backyard," he said.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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