Texas regulators ordered Atmos Energy to inspect gas pipeline couplings installed throughout North Texas after faulty installation of a coupling was linked to a gas explosion that destroyed an occupied home in Irving last year. In the hours that preceded the blast, the family smelled gas and asked an Atmos crew working on a gas main the street if they should evacuate. They were told it was safe. So, Alejandra de la Cruz, her five-year-old son and three other family members were asleep inside the house in the 3500 block of Colgate Lane when it exploded and caught fire just before 6 a.m. on January 1, 2018. Miraculously, they escaped unharmed.
Atmos initially denied that natural gas was involved in the explosion, later admitting it was pointing to an improperly installed coupling as the problem. The Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates pipelines, fined Atmos $16,000 for alleged safety violations that led to the explosion and ordered the company to fix the problem and submit a correction plan. After reviewing the plan in October 2018, the agency sent it back to Atmos saying it must include an investigation of how pervasive the problem is and gave the company a May 7, 2019 deadline to complete it.
These enforcement actions come on the heels of sweeping legislative reforms proposed by Texas lawmaker Rafael Anchia. The impetus for the 11-bill package aimed at improving pipeline safety and strengthening accountability was the February 23, 2018 gas explosion in Dallas that claimed the life of 12-year-old Linda Rogers and the investigative series by the Dallas Morning News, called Time Bomb, that the deadly explosion inspired. Anchia represents the district where Linda’s family lived. The series examined explosions and other serious problems a linked to Atmos Energy’s aging gas pipeline system and the lack of substantive enforcement action by state regulators.
“These enforcement actions are welcomed steps in the right direction,” said Eric Hageman, a lead attorney of the Pritzker Hageman Explosion Team. “All of us are better-served when gas companies are held accountable dangerous conditions and take steps to prevent them before tragedy strikes.”