How could Atmos contractor rupture a gas line?




Posted on August 28, 2012 at 8:26 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 7 at 2:50 PM

McKINNEY — Flames shot into the air Tuesday morning in McKinney. A construction site smoldered for more than an hour after a backhoe ruptured an Atmos Energy gas line near State Highway 5 and U.S. 75.

Three workers were treated for minor injuries and released. A fourth was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.

Atmos workers went door-to-door to restore gas service to about 650 customers in McKinney and Fairview after they were awakened to a thunderous roar.

"I woke up this morning and there was a big ball of flame coming out of my apartment complex,” said Keith Jackson, who lives just across the highway from the blast site.

A six-inch natural gas transmission line owned by Atmos Energy was struck by a backhoe operated by contracting crews replacing a line.

The key question now is: How could Atmos contractors not know where their employer's dangerous, high pressure line was located?

Atmos says it is still investigating.

By law, the contractor is supposed to contact the "call before you dig" hotline. There are two in Texas. One is operated by Texas 811.

News 8 called Texas 811 to find out if the law was followed in the case of Tuesday morning's explosion. Texas 811 not only didn't know the answer, one employee told us they won't ever know unless Atmos decides to tell them the name of their contractor.

"I answer to the utility companies. They are my bosses. I'm at their mercy," said Texas 811 vice president Mike Losawyer.

Attorney Marquette Wolf represents the widow of a man who was killed in a 2010 pipeline explosion in Johnson County where the "call before you dig" system also didn't work. The gas transmission company whose line was mistakenly struck never showed up to identify what later turned out to be a highly pressurized, 36-inch transmission line.

Wolf says Tuesday’s explosion appears to be another example of a fundamental problem with the line locator system. He says gas companies are under no pressure to properly locate their own lines.

"If the system were followed — followed properly — what happened today doesn't happen," Wolf said. “What really happened today, we'd have to ask Atmos."

Atmos has thus far declined to share the name of the contractor, making it difficult for anyone to know whether the "call before you dig" law was followed in this case.

Atmos is saying the company is sorry for the inconvenience to its customers, and is thankful there were no life-threatening injuries that resulted from the blast.