DALLAS — A natural gas explosion at a Dallas home that killed a 12-year-old girl came after an energy company failed to find a damaged line despite two nearby homes being destroyed in gas-related fires on the two previous days, federal officials said Tuesday.
National Transportation Safety Board officials said that after those first two incidents, Atmos Energy should have isolated the natural gas line and evacuated residents.
“The disaster could have been prevented if Atmos Energy had done what they needed to do,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said following a board meeting.
NTSB officials said Atmos didn’t adequately investigate the first two fires.
Linda “Michellita” Rogers was killed and four others were injured in the Feb. 23, 2018, explosion in a neighborhood near Dallas Love Field.
NTSB officials said that gas had leaked from a steel line running down an alley that had degraded after being dented, likely by heavy equipment during the replacement of a sewer line more than 20 years earlier. Officials said the gas migrated through the soil and into the house, where it was ignited by an unknown source.
Sumwalt said that in the weeks after the explosion, Atmos found about 1,260 leaks in area lines.
“All together it is endemic of an organization that is not properly managing its pipeline system,” Sumwalt said.
Atmos said in a statement Tuesday that their “number one priority is the safety of the public, our employees, and our natural gas distribution system,” and that they are “resolved to learn from this tragic accident.”
Atmos said they are reviewing the NTSB’s complete findings and recommendations from the explosion, and say that “but for the unreported damage, the pipe would not have failed.”
In 2019, Atmos settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Rogers’ family that accused the company of “gross negligence” by not fixing leaks in its “mismatched Frankensteinian” pipeline system ahead of the explosion. Terms of the settlement weren’t revealed.
The NTSB issued more than a dozen safety recommendations related to the explosion to Atmos and other organizations including regulatory agencies. Among the recommendations is that the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates Atmos, conduct a comprehensive audit of the company’s incident reporting practices and their policies and procedures for responding to leaks and fires and explosions and emergency calls.