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Gas service stops for thousands of Dallas homes due to leaks

March 2, 2018

In a Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 photo, students from Stephen C. Foster Elementary are evacuated and loaded onto school buses As a precaution following a house explosion in Dallas. Authorities said early Thursday, March 1, that Natural gas service will be shut down to thousands of Dallas homes following a series of leaks that has brought repeated evacuations in the wake of a house explosion that killed a 12-year-old girl. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

DALLAS (AP) — Natural gas service was shut down Thursday to thousands of Dallas homes following a series of leaks that has brought repeated evacuations in the wake of a house explosion that killed a 12-year-old girl.

Gas service will be discontinued for up to three weeks to about 2,800 homes northwest of downtown as gas lines are replaced and other work is done by more than 120 Atmos Energy crews, authorities said at a news conference.

Dallas-based Atmos, the country’s largest natural gas distributor, will compensate residents who choose to stay in hotels or incur other expenses during the disruption.

Thursday’s announcement by Atmos was the latest development to roil an area of the city where hundreds have been evacuated since an explosion Friday knocked a home off its foundation and collapsed its roof. The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents occurring during the transport of natural gas and other products through pipeline systems, described it as “a natural-gas fueled explosion.” A young girl, Linda Rogers, was killed and members of her family injured.

Two other homes on the same block were damaged by fire earlier that week and NTSB investigators are determining whether leaks were contributing factors.

Over the ensuing days, some were allowed to return to their homes while other blocks were evacuated as crews worked to pinpoint leaks. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, the county’s top administrator, said Thursday that one line alone had more than two-dozen leaks. In addition to the hundreds of homes, authorities evacuated an apartment complex, elementary school and fire station.

Atmos executives, who oversee a network that includes more than 3 million customers in eight states, say the events in Dallas are unprecedented. Atmos also operates in Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Louisiana and Mississippi.

“We have never seen the circumstances that we saw this week,” CEO and President Mike Haefner said.

Heavy rains have inundated North Texas in recent weeks — the National Weather Service says the month of February saw record rainfall in the region of more than 11 inches — and Kevin Akers, senior vice president for safety and enterprise services for Atmos, said the water caused underground pressure that pushed two different rock formations upward.

“That means with the extended rain that we have, the amount of rain and runoff and how that flows underground, causes ... those formations to expand up and puts pressure on our system, thus causing leakage,” Akers said.

Aging, inflexible pipes are being replaced with thick, high-grade plastic ones that offer flexibility when pressure is applied.

Studies over the years by the University of Texas at Arlington and other groups have shown rock formations of clay and other soils in the area expand when saturated. The expansion creates stress that can crack objects buried in the soil.

Atmos has promised to replace mains in the area, get residents back in their homes as quickly as possible, and take other steps.

“We will hold them accountable and make sure they live up to those promises,” Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said.

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Follow David Warren on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WarrenJourno

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