Did Rain Cause Damage to Gas Pipelines?

Shifting soil, old pipes, and rain. What caused gas leaks in Northwest Dallas?

In Northwest Dallas, Atmos Energy crews continue to dig out pipes from the ground, replacing them with newer pvc style pipes. The state ordered Atmos to start doing this seven years ago.

Atmos, one of the nation’s largest energy companies, is insisting that rain caused the soil only within the evacuation and outage area to shift. According to Atmos Energy, the shifting of the soil caused damage to the old pipes.

Many residents are confused and frustrated by the energy company’s explanation. For the past two weeks the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area experienced heavy rain. Residents wonder, if the rain fell on all of Dallas, why then are only certain neighborhoods impacted by gas leaks?

“That particular area may have a type of clay that is more sensitive to moisture,” said Usama El Shamy, an Associate Professor at Southern Methodist University's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. “Or of course, that particular location may have been poorly constructed from the very beginning. Whoever did the pipeline may not have followed all of the specifications. This is a problem within the entire state. We can't just ignore it. You have to do the proper research. You have to have the proper data."

Engineers who have been studying the soil in North Texas say the entire region has shifting soil. The soil should be properly treated with stabilizing chemicals before the pipelines are placed into the ground to prevent the soil from swelling and damaging the pipes.

Natural Gas Safety

Natural gas leaks are rare, but they can be deadly when they occur. Because of that, federal and state regulations require utility companies "odorize" natural gas so that it can be detected by people in normal circumstances. The smell added to natural gas is offensive, similar to that of a rotten egg.

The biggest threat of a natural gas leak is an explosion. The gas becomes extremely volatile when allowed to become concentrated in an enclosed area and a simple spark could cause a devastating explosion. 

If You Think You Smell a Gas Leak

Atmos Energy recommends the following in the event you think you've detected a gas leak.

  • Leave the area immediately and tell other to leave, too.
  • Leave any doors open.
  • DO NOT turn on or off any electric switch; this could cause a spark, igniting the gas. 
  • DO NOT use a cell phone, telephone, garage door opener, doorbell or even a flashlight.
  • DO NOT smoke, use a lighter or strike a match.
  • DO NOT start or stop a nearby vehicle or machinery. 
  • DO NOT try to shut off a natural gas valve.
  • DO NOT assume someone else will report the leak. Once you're safely out of the area, call 911 and Atmos at 866-322-8667 to report the leak.

Gas leaks that occur outside the home are dangerous as well. Most gas lines are buried underground.

Before doing any digging, call 811 at least 48 hours before digging so that utility companies can mark where underground lines are buried in your yard. This service is free and it's the law.

Online: Atmos Energy: Recognizing a Gas Leak

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