NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES
News 8 was the first to reveal Atmos Energy's plans to remove a half-million steel pipes and their couplings in North Central Texas.
Now there's more.
A plan has been unveiled in Austin to remove all natural gas compression couplings and steel pipes all across the state.
In what appears to be a huge about-face, state officials now recognize it must be done.
Since 2007, WFAA's investigation has illuminated case after case in which natural gas compression couplings were blamed for house explosions causing injuries and deaths.
The explosions date back to the 1980s.
Our reports detailed the existence of hundreds of thousands of questionable compression-style couplings that gas company officials and technicians knew were prone to fail.
Yet less than a year ago, state officials continued to deny that the couplings posed any particular risk.
"In our viewpoint, we would disagree that there is an inherent flaw in the coupling," said John Tintera, Executive Director of the Railroad Commission of Texas in an interview conducted in September 2009.
But in the past year, three houses have exploded, one person has died, two were seriously injured, and another survived to become a vocal advocate.
Their stories apparently are now being taken to heart.
For the first time, a commissioner with the state's regulating body, Michael Williams, is recommending a statewide fix of the Texas natural gas distribution system, including replacement of the compression couplings.
"I'm looking forward to them being removed." said Williams.
Williams and with the Railroad Commission's safety director are calling for an aggressive statewide removal program of all steel pipes and compression couplings connecting gas lines to your gas meter.
The full Commission has yet to decide how and when to proceed, but for the first time there appears to be a heartfelt consensus that something must be done.
"What we want to do is enhance the system," Williams said. "We want to enhance the system to make sure that it's a safe system. Of course you don't want anybody to die. All of us are being, obviously feel enormously a great deal of sorrow, a great deal of pain."
Many questions remain unanswered.
Gas companies, cities, and users must all be clued in on any plans.
This could be the largest infrastructure removal program ever in Texas, and the costs could run into the billions of dollars.
Completion of the removal program could take years.