Atmos knew about Dallas gas leaks weeks before deadly explosion, NTSB says

A new report states Atmos Energy knew about gas leaks in Northwest Dallas nearly two months before an explosion killed a 12-year-old girl.

The report from the National Transportation Safety Board found Atmos detected leaks in the neighborhood on January 1. That's nearly two months before Michellita Rogers was killed there. It raises new questions about why Atmos did not shut off the gas before the explosion.

Before the home on Espanola Drive blew up, Atmos had warning signs. The Rogers family did not.

Investigators said they found a cracked natural gas pipeline behind the Espanola Drive home, with the crack going around the circumference of the pipe.

The NTSB said that explosion was preceded by two other natural gas incidents on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 at homes nearby on Durango Drive -- an explosion and a fire.

According to the NTSB report, the family of 12-year-old Michellita told investigators they did not smell any natural gas before the explosion. The report says the rotten egg odor may have been stripped from the gas as it traveled through the soil.

The family did hear "popping" sounds the night before, according to the report. But the family could not figure out what was causing the sound.

At the same time, Crews from Atmos were already in the neighborhood investigating two other gas related incidents on an adjacent street, including an explosion that started with similar popping sounds.

All three homes share a main steel pipeline, which the NTSB later determined was cracked after running a pressure test.

County Judge Clay Jenkins says he wants answers about missed warning signs in this neighborhood and how Atmos is deciding when to replace old cast iron and steel pipelines across Dallas.

"We should know all there is to know about that risk model people to look at and tell us if that is as good as it can be so we don't have another tragedy,” Jenkins said.

After the explosion on Espanola Drive, gas was immediately shut off, and evacuations were ordered. But the NTSB report says Atmos had already detected leaks in the neighborhood as early as January 1.

According to Jenkins, that adds to the urgency of replacing older pipelines in Dallas with more flexible plastic pipe in five years.

“If our goal was to be cast iron free by 2023, why be cast iron well before 2023 and all Polly prop pipe by 2023?” Jenkins said. “That would be a goal. We can have that give and take."

Atmos says it prioritizes pipe replacement based on age, materials, leak history and other factors. After a lot of pressure, Atmos is finally revealing to residents what type of pipe is next to their homes and offices.

Jenkins is pushing Atmos for a searchable map to make it easier for people to identify pipelines street by street.

More than 300 homes in the Northwest Dallas neighborhood were subsequently evacuated after the deadly blast.

Atmos said on Thursday it has nearly 90 percent of emergency replacement work done in the area. More than 2,800 homes in the area had their gas turned off at the start of March.

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