Atmos, contractor face fines in McKinney gas pipeline explosion

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by By RICHARD ABSHIRE / The Dallas Morning News

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:43 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 11:06 AM

Atmos Energy and one of its subcontractors face up to $80,000 in fines after a state regulator found several violations tied to a May explosion along a gas pipeline in McKinney.

FILE/Staff photo
Atmos Energy workers checked for gas leaks the day after a May 16 pipeline explosion. Three people, including a woman who died of her injuries, were hospitalized. The Texas Railroad Commission has cited Atmos for violations in areas including procedures and operator qualification. M.J. Sheridan of Texas was cited for shortcomings in damage prevention.

The accident destroyed two homes and hospitalized three people, including a 77-year-old woman who died of her injuries last month.

In a report released Tuesday, the Texas Railroad Commission documented eight violations, six by Atmos and two by M.J. Sheridan of Texas, whose work crew cut the pipeline May 16 while boring into the ground at Throckmorton and Fenet streets.

No homes were evacuated immediately after the rupture, around 4:30 p.m., and the first call to 911 was made at 5:38 p.m., after the first of three explosions.

"Had emergency officials been dispatched sooner," the commission's report said, "they may have made the determination if homes needed to be evacuated."

Atmos spokesman Rand LaVonn said the company has reviewed its safety procedures since the accident and is analyzing the commission's report.

"We support our employees, who we believe took appropriate actions at the time of the incident," Mr. LaVonn said. "We also have high standards for our contractors, and we will continue to work diligently to ensure that they are qualified to do the work required of them."

M.J. Sheridan spokesman Jason Maloni declined to comment on the report, citing pending litigation.

The McKinney Police Department conducted a criminal investigation of the accident and turned the results over to the Collin County district attorney's office two weeks ago. The district attorney's office did not return phone calls late Tuesday.

After the accident, three victims, Nancy Foster, Arthur Bryson and Raul Moreno, were rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital with burns and other injuries.

Ms. Foster died of her injuries in July. Mr. Bryson's condition was not available.

Frank Branson, an attorney for the Foster family, said he was astounded by the commission's findings.

"This takes you through the handbook of what not to do," he said.

Mr. Moreno, who suffered burns on his hands and face, was released to home care after about a month in the hospital, according to his attorney, Domingo Garcia.

"He continues to undergo extensive physical rehabilitation and is slowly recovering from severe burns," said Mr. Garcia, who accused Atmos of "gross negligence."

The Railroad Commission report cited Atmos for violations in the areas of procedures, records, operator qualification and drug and alcohol testing. The commission faulted M.J. Sheridan for shortcomings in damage prevention.

Each violation carries a maximum fine of $10,000, commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said.

"They will have 30 days to respond, then we will issue fines and refer it to our legal section for enforcement," she said.

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