Atmos can't be sure aging pipeline system is safe, expert says

- Because of the repeated gas leaks in Northwest Dallas, the city council requested details from Atmos about its safety inspections and state regulation.

Mayor Mike Rawlings asked Atmos executives how the public can know the pipes under their houses are safe after the deadly explosion in February that killed a 12-year-old girl.

The natural gas company’s response to the mayor included more than 100 pages of audit results from the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that oversees pipeline safety.

The sun has faded the memorial for 12-year-old Linda “Michellita” Rogers, who died in a gas explosion at her home more than 2 months ago. A doll is still strewn on the front lawn.

Even though time has passed, one gas pipeline expert says the city still can't be sure Atmos' aging pipeline system across the city is safe.

"Grade one leaks are occurring every year. Those types of occurrences should cause the regulator to dig deeper,” explained Brigham McCown, the former deputy administrator for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

McCown looked over three years of safety evaluations that Atmos released to the city. He used to lead the federal agency that regulates pipelines. In addition to gas leaks, he says there are other significant problems.

“They're finding pipes not properly protected from corrosion damage. They're finding pipeline that doesn't have anti-corrosion measures built in,” he said. “And they're finding it year after year.”

McCown wants to know why the Texas Railroad Commission is not issuing any fines for the safety violations.

"To never fine someone or almost never fine someone seems odd,” he said.

In a letter to Mayor Rawlings, Atmos says over the three-year period in Dallas, the commission identified only 23 issues. The company says all of them were minor in that no penalty was warranted or imposed under the commission’s rules

In February, even after a gas-related explosion and a gas-related fire at neighboring homes, Atmos failed to catch the problems with its pipes between Espanola Drive and Durango Drive before the explosion that killed Michellita.

Atmos has since replaced all the pipeline in the neighborhood and is now expanding the project to a nearby neighborhood where more leaks were detected. But residents who live near the explosion are still concerned.

"At night I can't sleep thinking, ‘Who am I going to get out first? My daughter is in the crib. Carry two kids at once.’ At night, I think about those things,” said resident Karina Guerrero.

Atmos did not respond to requests for comment, but it did tell the city in its audit release that the safety and integrity of its pipeline system is of primary importance.

Mayor Rawlings was not available to speak with FOX 4 about Atmos' response to his question. FOX 4 also reached out to the Texas Railroad Commission to see why fines were not issued for the violations it found.

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