Five months after the natural gas explosion that killed a 12-year-old girl in her northwest Dallas home, the accelerated replacement of gas pipe now extends to neighborhoods a full four miles to the north in a construction plan that could have Atmos Energy contractors working well into next year.
After the February explosion on Espanola Drive – and the preceding other two explosions and fires on Durango Drive, which shares the same gas service line as Epsanola – Atmos initiated an unprecedented mass replacement of gas mains and gas service lines to a multi-block area effectively shutting of gas service to as many as 2,800 homes for up to a month.
Now, in a recent letter to the Railroad Commission of Texas, Atmos indicates that process will continue to expand.
"Our planned pipe replacement projects have always been and will continue to be a top priority at Atmos Energy, with more than 80% of our investments directed toward enhancing the safety and reliability of our system," said Mike Haefner, Atmos Energy President and CEO. The company's accelerated replacement projects now extend as far north as the southwest corner of the LBJ Freeway and the North Dallas Tollway. The replacement program, with lines completed, projects slated for 2018 and others scheduled for 2019, can be seen in the attached Atmos Energy Map.
"Our goal is to perform an entire system replacement of a significant portion of northwest Dallas by the end of 2019 and to eliminate cast iron from the Mid-Tex distribution system by 2021," an Atmos spokesperson said in a written statement.
On July 2, crews arrived at the alleys near the intersection of Alta Vista and Snow White Drive. And Sharon Pappas said the work began with little warning: a contractor hanging door notices the very morning the work began in the alley behind her home.
"That has been very frustrating because right now we're in limbo," she said of a repainting project at her house that has been put on hold for the entire month. On Monday July 30, Atmos contractors were still blocking the alley.
"We got no warning," Pappas said. "I actually discovered them starting their work."
But at the same time she appreciates what the workers are doing because she knows this all started with the death of Michelita Linda Rogers three miles away. Today, that home on Espanola Drive is still surrounded by a locked security fence, the home as it was the morning it exploded, as the investigation and the family's lawsuit against Atmos continue in search of a resolution.
"I'm OK with them doing the work. It's necessary work," Pappas said of the Atmos crews. "If there are leaks and there are old pipes and breakages they need to do the work."
And her neighbor Lance Hagan agreed, even though he returned from vacation to find a four foot hole in his front yard where work crews found and replaced the natural gas main that leads to his neighbor's alley.
"That's important. I feel like that you don't need another explosion like that obviously," Hagan said. "I feel sorry for those folks," he said of the Rogers family. "We're happy that they're here and trying to get things right putting the proper gas lines in. So I'm OK with it."
Atmos, in its reports to the Railroad Commission of Texas, says its work plan for the entire Mid-Tex Region includes replacing up to 292 miles of pipe.
As for the cost of all this, Atmos said, "We continue to increase the levels of capital investment dedicated to replacing infrastructure and meeting the demands of more customers. The filing in January 2019 (Dallas Annual Rate Review tariff) will reflect costs related to infrastructure investments made through September of 2018. However, there are some costs that have decreased, auch as federal income taxes, and Atmos Energy acted quickly to pass those savings on to our customers in February of this year."