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Investigation Faults Atmos, Contractor for Dallas Area Explosion

An investigation of three May 16 natural gas explosions and a fire in McKinney, TX, by the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) alleges six violations by Atmos Energy Corp. and two by contractor M.J. Sheridan Inc., according to a report released last week.

The RRC investigated three explosions that occurred in sequence, two on Fenet Street and one on Throckmorton Street in McKinney, near Dallas. The cause was found to be a leak in a three-inch diameter polyethylene gas distribution main, which Atmos had hired M.J. Sheridan to replace with a four-inch diameter line. The contractor is alleged to have hit the existing line with a directional boring rig. Gas migrated into the sewer system and then the homes where the explosions occurred. The explosions destroyed two of the homes and sent three people to the hospital, one of whom later died.

The contractor was cited for two violations related to damage prevention, and Atmos, owner of the distribution system, was cited for six violations relating to procedures, records, operator qualification and drug and alcohol testing.

"Atmos Energy Procedures calls for personnel to give immediate attention to potential hazards to people or property. No homes were evacuated in the emergency response after the explosions. However, in the 29 minutes that [Atmos service technician] Mr. [Johnny] Jackson was on-site, he moved his vehicle three times," the RRC said in its report.

"The contract crew notified their company headquarters of the hit line but did not call 911 to notify emergency officials," the RRC said. "Had emergency officials been dispatched sooner they may have made the determination if homes needed to be evacuated."

Atmos said it was reviewing the report. "We support our employee, who we believe took appropriate actions at the time of the incident," the company said. "We also have high standards for our contractors, and we will continue to work diligently to ensure that they are qualified to do the work required of them."

Each violation carries a potential fine of up to $10,000. Atmos and its contractor have 30 days to respond to the RRC report. "We continue to review our practices and protocols in the wake of this tragedy, and will respond further at the appropriate time," Atmos said.

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