A state lawmaker who represents the Dallas neighborhood where a 12-year-old girl was killed by a natural gas explosion a year ago is fighting for changes that could prevent future tragedies.
"I'm worried that there's still miles and miles of old corroded pipe under the ground that create this type of risk," State Representative Rafael Anchia said.
Michellita Rogers recorded cell phone video as she prepared for a cheerleading competition on February 23, 2018. Her house on Espanola Drive in Northwest Dallas was destroyed before she left that morning.
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"If there had been action taken immediately after those first two warning signs, Michellita would be alive today because an evacuation would have occurred," Anchia said.
Evacuations did occur and Atmos Energy completed a massive gas line replacement in the neighborhood after the fatal explosion. The company said at the time there was no way to predict the leak conditions in advance.
Three members of the girl's family who were also in the house at the time of the blast survived with serious injuries.
"I think they take action after my daughter passed away, but they need to take more," the victim's mother Maria Rogers said this week.
The survivors have accepted Anchia's invitation to appear with him on the floor of the Texas House next week as he seeks support from other lawmakers for the new laws he is proposing.
His changes would require much faster replacement of remaining Atmos iron and steel pipes with plastic, improve gas leak notification to neighbors and increase authority of the Texas Railroad Commission which oversees gas utilities.
"We need to up fines, some of which have not been brought up to date since 1991. We need to give them the tools they need to be more muscular. But, we need to demand for them to be more active regulators," Anchia said.
Anchia said he faces an uphill battle in the Texas Legislature where utilities have strong support. He hopes pubic pressure will help bring changes this year.
Atmos Energy declined an interview request Friday but issued a statement saying that the company is replacing more pipe than ever before and shares Anchia's goal of public safety:
"With that said, the Railroad Commission (RRC) of Texas already has full oversight authority and reviews/approves Atmos Energy plans that determine how our pipeline infrastructure projects are prioritized every year. By regulation, our plans take into consideration a variety of factors, such as pipe location, composition and nature of the piping system (age of the pipe, materials, type of facilities, operating pressures, leak history records, prior leak repairs), corrosion history, environmental factors and any other condition known to the operator," the statement said.
The company provided a web site link with an interactive map of pipe replacement projects.