Gas Pipe Lines: Despite pledge, faulty gas lines remain

by: Brett Shipp, WFAA

LAKEWOOD -- Nearly six weeks ago, a gas explosion rocked a home in Dallas’ Lakewood neighborhood. Since then, residents have been given scant details about what happened, and what dangers still exist.

For nearly a decade, WFAA has investigated gas line failures caused by compression couplings. Our stories have shown that shifting soil conditions can cause them to pop apart, leak gas, and blow up homes.

As a result of our stories, the gas company pledged to remove them all. But have they? Where are they now?

In 2007, Channel 8 began documenting the violent aftermath of compression coupling failures – homes reduced to splinters and people dead or in the hospital.

Regulators with the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates gas lines, were forced to rewrite the rules, requiring that “all joints on steel and plastic pipe below ground must be welded or designed and installed to resist pullout.”

Yet, line failures keep happening.

On March 2, 2015, a house exploded in the 9400 block of Eloise Street in southeast Dallas. Two occupants are injured but survive. An investigation reveals the culprit – a pipe pullout on yet another compression coupling.

Despite the new state rule, the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates gas lines, has neither cited nor fined Atmos Energy, which owns and maintains the lines.

A 2010 pledge by Atmos that “we will simply replace all of the old couplings in accordance with the Railroad Commission directive” has since been removed from Atmos’ website. You can read an archived version here.

 

 Megan Anderson talks with investigative reporter Brett Shipp about the explosion that damaged her kitchen on January 5, 2016. (WFAA)  

Megan Anderson talks with investigative reporter Brett Shipp about the explosion that damaged her kitchen on January 5, 2016. (WFAA)  

Megan Anderson is just thankful no one was killed when her Lakewood kitchen exploded six weeks ago.

“All of the debris blasted out this way and thank God those chairs were there because it blocked it from hitting my kids,” she said.

After the explosion, Facebook boiled over with concerned neighbors demanding answers. Atmos officials say they found and repaired a leak on the gas main in the alley. But since the explosion, Megan’s husband Jeremy Anderson said Atmos has refused to provide them with any specific information.

“I've been told from the very beginning that ‘Every house leaks, it's not a big deal … it's no more risky than driving your car on the highway,’” Jeremy Anderson said. “I'm sorry but my car did not blow up … my house did.”

Anderson says an Atmos worker told him leaks were found up and down the alley behind his house.

Atmos tells News 8 it replaced the gas main in the alley, but has declined our repeated requests for details about the cause and extent of the leak.

But WFAA has obtained leak detection surveys submitted to the state that shows tens of thousands of leaks all across the Atmos Mid-Texas system dating back to 2009, including two reported leaks on Haverford Road, which is where the Andersons live.

Curious where gas leaks have been reported near you? Click here for access to WFAA's interactive database.

But gas line leaks are so common, state regulators at the Texas Railroad Commission only require the worst leaks, known as Grade 1 leaks, be repaired right away. Grade 2 leaks can leak for six months. Grade 3 leaks – for three years.

“These rules are so vague that anyone could do anything they want to,” said Don Deaver, a pipeline expert and an outspoken critic of the Texas Railroad Commission.

“The whole process makes you wonder, what are the priorities of the Railroad Commission?” Deaver said. “Where does public health really stack up?”

Today, more than a month after the explosion, the Anderson’s yard is still so contaminated with gas, Atmos is paying for them to live in an apartment. Atmos says it could be weeks before they pump all the gas out of the ground.

Anderson says a gas leak this bad should have been repaired long before an explosion – an explosion he's thankful wasn't a lot worse.

“I mean what does it take?” Anderson said. “Another badly burned seven year old, or another child killed? Another woman burned from head to toe? When is Atmos really going to step in and fix the problem?"

Copyright 2016 WFAA