Dallas council questions Atmos on pipeline repairs

Atmos Energy executives tried to explain to the Dallas City Council its response to the deadly house explosion and natural gas outage in Northwest Dallas.

Company executives faced the council for the first time since 12-year-old Michellita Rogers died in the house explosion in February. Days before that, there were two other gas-related incidents at nearby homes.

The executives claimed heavy rain caused the soil to expand and put pressure on old steel pipes, which led to leaks. But when council members asked why water and sewer lines and swimming pools in the area were not also cracking, the executives could not answer.

"I can assure you our system is safe today,” said Atmos CEO Mike Haefner. “And with the investments we've made, it is safer than it's ever been."

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings questioned the CEO’s bold statement.

"I'd like to have someone else besides Atmos say that as well,” the mayor said.

Like FOX 4, Rawlings said he hasn't been able to find any government report that confirms the intricate pipeline system all over Dallas is safe. He also questioned whether the Texas Railroad Commission is doing enough to regulate pipeline safety.

Councilman Omar Narvaez also pointed out that there were reports of leaks in Rogers’ neighborhood in January, long before the heavy rain.

Over a three-week period, Atmos replaced 150,000 feet of pipe in the neighborhood. It paid $15 million to the 2,400 people affected by the outage. The company said it plans to replace all cast iron pipes in Dallas by 2023.

Councilman Scott Griggs argued that’s not fast enough. He and others like Councilman Mark Clayton feel uncomfortable knowing that there are 80-year-old pipes in Dallas not yet being replaced.

Atmos executives said they could not answer questions related to the home explosion on Espanola that killed Michellita. Days after the deadly explosion, Atmos began detecting more leaks and shut off gas to 2,800 homes to replace all of the aging steel pipes.

Some council members were skeptical of the company's claim that a complicated geological phenomenon was to blame for the leaks.

Atmos says it is now using the new earth movement theory when it calculates which pipes are the highest priority for replacement in Dallas within the next five years.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Atmos also said it is ending the practice of estimating gas bills because many customers complained that their bills went up dramatically after the explosion.

Anyone who has a question about their bill should call 1-888-286-6700, the company said.