New report says Atmos violates minimum standards

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on July 13, 2010 at 10:27 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 11 at 4:40 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

For the third time this year, Atmos Energy has been cited for allegedly violating minimum safety regulations set out by the government.

The citation follows three house explosions over a three-month period. News 8 has been investigating these and other explosions since 2006.

A just-released report documents a fatal house explosion in Irving last January. In it, the Texas Railroad Commission blasts Atmos for failing to maintain its equipment as required by law.

The findings in this report are among the main reasons Atmos Energy is about to embark on what may be the largest pipeline removal initiative in state history.

In the explosion early in the morning on January 31, natural gas leaked into an Irving residence ignited. The resulting explosion seriously injured Peggy Mantheiy, who survived.

Her husband Joe died a few days later.

Although Atmos Energy crews spent several days repairing natural gas leaks around the Mantheiy's neighborhood, no official cause of the leak has been reported until now.

According to Texas Railroad Commission investigators, "there was a leak on a ... compression coupling nut."

It was a "grade one" leak — so powerful that it can be seen in video from the scene bubbling up through the foundation.

The leaking natural gas compression coupling was just a few feet away from the Mantheiy residence, under the ground, attached to the main gas line which runs east and west.

In the days following the explosion, Atmos crews identified 32 similar leaks all over the neighborhood.

That was enough for state regulators to request "replacement of the service lines and their couplings across the entire Irving distribution system."

 

The findings in the latest report mirror an explosion report issued April 28. In it, Railroad Commission investigators recommended "replacement of all steel service lines in Mesquite" following the blast that leveled Kristi Samons; house in November.

In the days following her house explosion, workers discovered not only a leaking compression coupling behind her house, but 61 other leaks in the surrounding neighborhood.

Two weeks earlier, the Texas Railroad Commission released another report documenting an explosion in Lancaster last November. In that case, gas leaking from a pipe connection found its way from under the street into a residence. One person was severely burned when the house exploded.

Again, Atmos was cited for "violations of the minimum safety regulations."

That's three house explosions in three months in North Texas, and six house explosions since 2006 — all due to failures along an aging or inadequate Atmos natural gas delivery system.

Now — after nearly four years of News 8 investigative reports — Railroad Commissioners and their staff are calling for the removal of the old steel lines and their couplings across the state.

"Obviously when there is an explosion, all of us are concerned about it, and we ought to be, and the public is concerned about it," said Commissioner Michael Williams.

Atmos officials say they have not seen the Irving report and cannot comment on it.

Atmos is already working to replace all of its steel lines and couplings in Texas. There are at least half a million to replace, and the work could take more than a decade.

But the latest report reinforces the cry from explosion survivors and their families that the failing couplings must come out of the ground.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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