Gas Meters Line North Texas Roadways Sparking Concerns of Leaks, Explosions - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
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Gas Meters Line North Texas Roadways Sparking Concerns of Leaks, Explosions

TxDOT data shows vehicles struck roadside gas meters more than 3,600 times in eight years

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    Roadside Gas Meters Spark Concerns of Leaks, Explosions

    Gas meters found close to roads are damaged in crashes far more than one might expect, according to a joint investigation from NBC 5 Investigates and The Dallas Morning News. (Published Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019)

    The mother's trembling voice conveyed her horror.

    "Oh! Oh my God!"

    She was pleading for help in a 911 call, on a rain-soaked street in Southlake, as fast-escaping gas enveloped her car, and her twins inside it.

    "I'm trying to get my kids out of the car ... oh my God!" Michelle Gilmartin told the police dispatcher.

    Fearing an explosion, she cried: "I'm getting away from it. It smells horribly."

    Gilmartin told NBC 5 Investigates she was on her way home when she said another car stopped suddenly in front of her, causing her to veer into a grassy area and strike an above-ground gas meter.

    "You could just hear the ‘shhhhh' of the gas immediately," she said.

    Gilmartin and her son escaped injury in the 2017 crash, which led to the gas company moving the meter back from the road, behind a fence.

    But other gas meters remain close to roads – some closer than the one Gilmartin hit – in Southlake and Keller, NBC 5 Investigates has found.

    "Why aren't we moving them? Why aren't we protecting more people," Gilmartin said, adding: "Because not everybody is going to be as lucky as I was with my boys."

    It happens more often that one might expect, according to a joint investigation by NBC 5 Investigates and The Dallas Morning News.

    Crash data from the Texas Department of Transportation showed throughout the state vehicles ran into gas meters more than 3,600 times during an eight-year period, from 2010 to 2018.

    Made with Flourish

    While it's not reflected in the TxDOT crash data, experts said such collisions often cause the release of explosive gas, endangering not only the people in the vehicle, but also bystanders.

    "I could just instantly smell gas everywhere," said Brenda Claborn, who was stopped for a light in Southlake when another driver veered several feet off the road, shearing off a gas meter.

    "I felt very fortunate that nothing happened to me or anyone else around there," Claborn said.

    That incident in 2016 also resulted in the gas meter being moved further away from the road, but NBC 5 Investigates found other meters nearby, still placed close to ongoing traffic.

    "These absolutely need to be moved. This is silly," said Brigham McCown, former administrator of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

    "At some point you have to say we have an issue here, we have a problem," McCown said.

    He said he's also concerned about gas meters NBC 5 saw in communities like Plano, Richardson and Rockwall that are located next to alleys and driveways – often in the "blind spot" for someone behind the steering wheel.

    In 2006, a woman was killed in Central Texas in an explosion triggered by her accidentally backing over a gas meter near the edge of a driveway.

    McCown said he believes state and federal rules already exist in Texas that would require many meters to be moved, or protected by barriers.

    Such regulations say in part that each meter must be "... protected from corrosion and other damage, including ... vehicular damage that may be anticipated."

    Rich Parsons, spokesman for the Railroad Commission of Texas, said the agency has in the past ordered gas companies to move their meters, and will order others to be relocated if found to be a potential risk.

    "If we identify one in an unsafe location, if we identify one that may have been struck at some point by a vehicle, then we will take action," Parsons said.

    But he added that gas meters, no matter how close to a road, are not a threat to drivers who "obey the traffic laws of this state."

    "As long as you can maintain control of your vehicle, as you are required to by law, you will be safe," Parsons said.

    Asked whether he felt it was reasonable to expect all Texans to drive flawlessly at all times, he said, "It's reasonable to expect Texans behind the wheel of a car to obey the traffic laws of this state."

    McCown questioned such logic, equating it with the notion that, "If everybody drove carefully, we wouldn't need airbags."

    "Things happen sometimes," McCown said, "even when you are trying to be careful."

    According to TxDOT crash reports, more than 600 of the gas meter crashes,  from 2010 to 2018, involved a speeding vehicle; more than 400 involved driver inattention.

    But NBC 5 Investigates found that some crashes involving gas meters are not even reported to state regulators at the railroad commission.

    Currently, gas companies only have to report a collision with a meter if it involves a death or injury from the release of the gas, damage exceeding $50,000, or the release of a large amount of gas.

    Any move to change those reporting requirements would have to come through the Texas Legislature, according to the commission.

    The gas meters studied by NBC 5 Investigates belong to Atmos Energy, the largest gas company in North Texas.

    "We take these types of safety matters very seriously," and "when installing meters, we follow all applicable regulations," an Atmos spokesperson said, adding that many meters near roadways and alleys "are not protected because of the low probability of anticipated damage."

    As for the meter struck by Michelle Gilmartin, the spokesperson said that even though the gas leak "... appears to have occurred from vehicle damage that could not have been anticipated under normal driving conditions, we did move the meter."

    The police report said Gilmartin was following too closely to the vehicle in front of her, and was a contributing factor to the crash.

    She disputed that claim and was not given a ticket.

    It was a day Gilmartin said neither she nor her children will forget.

    "My kids still talk about it. To this day, they are still scared by it. They point out meters all the time," she said, adding that her twins point out, "Mommy, look how close that one is to the road."


    Online: If you have concerns about a gas meter located near a roadway, the Texas Railroad Commission encourages you to contact your local gas comany first. If your concerns are not addressed you can contact the Railroad Commission to make a formal complaint using the contact information in this link: The Texas Railroad Commission

    Concerned About a Gas Meter?: If you have a gas meter near a roadway that you're concerned about, email us a photo, the location and your contact information to iSee@nbcdfw.com.

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