NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES
Two of Dallas' top public officials are asking Atmos Energy to speed up removal of dangerous and decaying cast-iron pipes in North Texas.
The call to action comes in the wake of a News 8 investigation into the dangers of decades old gas pipes still buried under the streets of Dallas and Tarrant counties.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins decided to get involved after watching a News 8 Investigation last week. He was alarmed to hear the story of the Mendez family of Dallas, who will forever wear the physical and emotional scars of surviving a gas explosion that ripped through their home in September 2011.
Just feet from the home was an 80-year-old, cracked and leaking cast-iron gas main. That section of pipe represents a fraction of the more than 800 miles of decaying, cast-iron pipes still under the alleys and streets in Atmos' Texas system, the vast majority of it in Dallas County.
Due to a series of explosions and deaths, the federal government began recommending the removal of cast-iron pipes back in the 1970s.
Judge Jenkins said what got his attention was News 8's interactive map on WFAA.com pinpointing 2,300 cast-iron leak repairs in the Atmos system in the past four years.
“It's my opinion that Atmos needs to provide us with conclusive evidence that this pipe is safe, and failing to do so they need to remove it from the ground as soon as possible," Judge Jenkins said.
Jenkins added he has been in almost daily contact with Atmos Energy over the past week negotiating a plan to expedite removal of cast-iron from the ground from 20 miles last year, to 50 miles this year.
"I wanted to know what the plans were for replacement of that pipe, and I wanted to know if the pipe was being dug up and tested in the various neighborhoods of Dallas County,” Judge Jenkins said. “I want to see an aggressive testing protocol in place until the pipe could be removed."
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has also been involved in the dialogue, and says the city wants to coordinate with Atmos to speed up the pipe removal.
"There's a lot of things that go on in our streets all the time,” the mayor said. “If there is some way the left hand can help the right hand, we want to get this accomplished."
On Monday, Atmos spokeswoman Jennifer Ryan issued a statement saying: "We have been working with the city of Dallas, Dallas County and the City of Fort Worth to clarify our pipe replacement program for 2013 and beyond."
Ryan said the gas company will spend "$25 million to replace cast iron pipe... doubling the amount we spent in 2012."
The gas distribution company in Houston, Entex, replaced its entire network of cast-iron pipes in the early 1990s. Judge Jenkins said the citizens of Dallas County should not have to wait decades more for Atmos to do the same.
"Whenever there's a risk of harm to the citizens of Dallas County, then I feel compelled to stand up for the citizens of Dallas County," he said.
While the Texas Railroad Commission has cited Atmos for failing to have a cast-iron pipe replacement program, a spokesperson declined to discuss its concerns or plan of action.
As for the cast-iron pipe concerns in Fort Worth, Mayor Betsy Price says Atmos has assured her residents are in good hands.