NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES
LEWISVILLE –– The gas and electric companies involved in last week’s deadly natural gas explosion at a Lewisville duplex have a history together of line ruptures, records obtained by News 8 indicate.
Scott Dehl, 55, died Sunday, two days after his house exploded on Main Street. The Texas New Mexico Power Company was drilling a hole in front of his home when their auger struck a high-pressure gas line.
Gas leaked into his home and ignited. State and federal law requires the company conducting the excavation to contact the state's "One-Call" system alerting all utilities to mark their lines.
A spokesman for Atmos Energy, which owns the gas line, said the company followed the law. Video from the scene, in fact, shows two yellow Atmos flags marking the line just inches away from where the auger struck it.
Texas New Mexico Power officials also defend their actions saying, "Our workers are in dangerous situations all the time. They appreciate the importance of putting safety first."
So who is to blame for the deadly mistake? Dallas attorney Marquette Wolf has investigated numerous gas pipeline ruptures and says all can be avoided.
"They know that it is imperative that they communicate with each other during the excavation event," Wolf said.
Records obtained from the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency charged with overseeing these companies, show Atmos Energy and Texas New Mexico Power have a history of pipeline incidents together.
One, less than two years ago, also in Lewisville, involved an Atmos gas line. In this case, according to the state, "Atmos failed to use all information necessary to mark the underground pipeline accurately."
In 2009, in Nocona, located about 100 miles northwest of Dallas, a Texas New Mexico Power Company auger struck another Atmos gas line. This time the state determined it was the power company's fault because, according to state records, "no line locate was requested."
Given their history of miscommunication, and that that Atmos flags were just inches away from the drill, Wolf says both parties should have taken extraordinary care to make sure a fatal mistake was not made.
"Literally every one of these calls, when there's a potential conflict, is a life or death situation,” said Wolf. “The safety situation has got to be that carefully analyzed and they need to come together and they didn't here."
The Texas Railroad Commission’s official investigation determining fault should take three to four months. But in cases involving death, the more intensive investigations are typically conducted by experts hired by the victim's family, which could take years.