More than 3,000 — that’s the number of leaks the Atmos Mid-Tex utility has discovered on its Dallas-area gas-line system during the first half of 2018.
And nearly half the leaks are hazardous.
These were among the dramatic findings included in a recent investigative report by the Dallas Morning News. The newspaper in late July also reported that the Atmos Mid-Tex utility had uncovered more leaks on its system during the first half of 2018 than it had during each of the previous three years.
“Atmos found so many natural gas leaks in northwest Dallas that it now plans to replace a pipeline network covering an area more than four times the size of White Rock Lake,” the newspaper reported.
The investigative report is part of the enhanced media scrutiny confronting the utility following the death of Linda “Michellita” Rogers, a 12-year-old girl who was killed on Feb. 23 when an Atmos line exploded and blew her northwest Dallas house off its foundation.
Atmos now says it will replace a significant portion of its system by the end of 2019 and remove all old cast-iron pipe from the network by the end of 2021.
The fatal explosion at the Rogers home was not the first for Atmos Mid-Tex or its predecessor utilities in North Texas. In 1983, for instance, a gas line explosion killed a 21-year-old woman in Terrell. Another in 2006 killed an elderly couple in Wylie. Nationwide, a fire or blast caused by a natural gas leak injured someone or damaged property once every two days, according to a 2014 investigation of accidents during the previous decade. Gas-related disasters killed 135 people, injured more than 600 and caused more than $2 billion in damages, according to that investigation.
Atmos insists that its system is now safe, although it also remains dedicated to replacing its aging steel and cast-iron pipe. It has said that repair and replacement efforts will account for nearly 60 percent of its capital spending in 2018. The utility already has embarked on a program to remove its cast iron pipes, the oldest on the system. Homes built in the 1940s and 1950s often have steel pipes, while polyethylene pipes are found at more recent homes, according to the Dallas Morning News.
What follows is a brief chronological summary of the major developments in the Metroplex related to Atmos gas leaks and the February 23 accident that killed Linda “Michellita” Rogers.
January 2018 – Atmos becomes aware of gas leaks in the Rogers’ northwest Dallas neighborhood in early January, more than one month before the fatal explosion. The Company repairs a non-hazardous leak in the area on January 29.
February 21 – A fire apparently fueled by a natural gas leak breaks out in a home in the 3500 block of Durango Drive, not far from the Rogers home. The fire injures one person.
February 22 – A kitchen fire on the same block as the February 21 incident injures one man. According to reports, the man was cooking on the stove when the natural gas flame flared up and quickly spread.
February 23 – A natural gas explosion destroys the Rogers’ home at 3534 Espanola Drive, in northwest Dallas, killing12-year-old Linda “Michellita” Rogers. The explosion brings intense media, public and political scrutiny to Atmos and the safety of its operations.
February 25 – Atmos Energy crews discover a gas leak at the Chapel Creek Apartments in the 3400 block of Hidalgo Drive. The discovery prompts the evacuation of 90 units.
February 26 – The Railroad Commission of Texas says it has assigned two inspectors to work with local and federal investigators reviewing the Rogers house explosion. The National Transportation Safety Board says its investigators are focusing on the Rogers house explosion but are also investigating the two preceding house fires on nearby Durango Drive.
February 27 – Atmos announces that subsequent gas leaks have led to the additional evacuation of about 300 homes and the evacuation of a northwest Dallas fire station.
February 28 – Atmos announces further evacuations of 390 homes and 90 apartment units because of suspected gas leaks.
March 1 – Atmos shuts down the natural gas distribution system serving 2,800 homes in the area while it replaces coated steel pipes with plastic pipe.
March 29 – The Rogers family files a wrongful death lawsuit against Atmos, seeking more than $1 million in damages.
April 2 – An explosion at the 3700 block of Spring Avenue in Dallas injures two people and blows out the wall of a duplex near Fair Park. According to a Dallas Fire Rescue spokesperson, a gas leak coming from an open valve in the home fueled the explosion. The explosion occurred 10 miles from the Rogers’ northwest Dallas neighborhood.
July 30 – Atmos announces that its “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.”