Atmos investigated leaks before fatal Dallas house blast

An email sent by Atmos Energy to Texas regulators reveals company workers were investigating natural gas leaks involving fires at two Dallas homes some 12 hours before an explosion at another home killed a 12-year-old girl.

The company did not evacuate residents or shut off gas lines in the neighborhood near Dallas Love Field airport until after the Feb. 23 explosion that knocked a home off its foundation and killed Linda Rogers. Three days later, the broader neighborhood was evacuated and Atmos cut service to 2,800 homes.

The sequence of events was revealed in emails between Atmos officials and the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates pipeline safety in the state. The emails were obtained by The Dallas Morning News and WFAA-TV.

Atmos discovered at least 28 gas leaks in the neighborhood, according to the emails.

The two house fires that preceded the nearby explosion occurred on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22. "Atmos crews are continuing to monitor the surrounding area for potential leaks and will make repairs as needed," according to one email to the Railroad Commission.

The company declined to comment on the emails, referring questions to the National Transportation Safety Board, which also is investigating.

Atmos says heavy rain, shifting clay soil and aging, inflexible steel pipes have contributed to dozens of leaks in the neighborhood. Neighbors reported that they smelled gas before the explosion.

Gaye McElwain, a spokeswoman for the commission, declined to comment to The Dallas Morning News on whether Atmos followed all safety precautions before the girl was killed.

Carl Weimer, executive director of the Washington-based nonprofit Pipeline Safety Trust, said it was unusual that Atmos appeared unaware of the larger safety problems in the neighborhood after two house fires. He said more information was needed to determine whether Atmos acted properly.

John Barr, an attorney representing the Rogers family, told WFAA that one email from an Atmos executive revealed a "heedless disregard for the safety of the people that live in that area." He says the company should have notified the neighborhood after the first two fires.