Data released by state regulators shows over 500,000 steel gas-supply lines, the type blamed in several home explosions, must be replaced in North Central Texas.
The Texas Railroad Commission’s most recent field inspection showed that more than 100,000 of the lines are in the Fort Worth service area alone. An additional 97,741 are in Dallas, and thousands more are in surrounding suburbs such as Waxahachie, Midlothian, Ennis, Red Oak, Cedar Hill, De Soto, Duncanville and more.
Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams proposed this week that utilities be required to replace 2.2 million steel service lines statewide with plastic lines, which don’t corrode like steel. But in North Texas alone, that could require more than $500 million, a cost likely to be passed on to consumers.
Atmos Energy’s chief executive officer, Robert Best, said Thursday that although the natural gas network remains safe, the company needs to replace the aging steel service lines, which carry gas from the street to meters.
Replacing all 524,546 steel service lines in Atmos’ Mid-Tex Division, which serves North Texas, could take about 20 years. And because the service line stops at the meter, everything on the home side of the meter remains the customer’s responsibility.
Just working out the logistics of replacing the service lines takes time, Atmos officials said. The utility said it has been assessing which areas are most at risk for leaks and explosions. Those will get replacements first. Atmos and the cities where work is done also must work out how to handle details such as traffic disruption, permits and street repairs.
The gas company also is negotiating with cities about the cost. Texas cities have original jurisdiction over natural gas rates. The Railroad Commission steps in to sort out disagreements. To be decided is whether Atmos will be allowed to charge ratepayers for the work plus a profit.
“Why would you not be allowed to recover costs that were prudently spent?” Best asked Thursday. “I view this as an infrastructure replacement, which we typically put in our rate base.” State Rep. Robert Miklos, who represents Mesquite, does not agree with a plan to allow Atmos and other providers to draw a profit while replacing the lines.
“Why should Atmos or any other utility profit from replacing their own dilapidated and dangerous infrastructure?” the Democrat asked. “It’s one thing for all of us to share in the costs of these long overdue safety upgrades, but does Atmos really deserve to make an additional profit out of our pockets just for doing the minimum to save lives?”
About 55 percent of North Texas homes use natural gas for heating or hot water.
The steel service lines, installed from the 1950s to the 1980s, have been blamed in a handful of deadly explosions locally.
In 2006, an elderly Wylie couple died when a natural gas leak ignited a fire that burned their home. In 2007, an explosion in Cleburne killed two women and injured three other family members. Officials blamed those blasts on leaks at couplings, which are pieces used to join pipes. Atmos completed a program to replace couplings and so-called prebent risers, the curved pipes attached to meters.
Then, a house in Mesquite exploded last year, shifting attention to steel service lines.
After last year’s Mesquite explosion, the commission told Atmos to stop using steel service lines like the one at the home. Atmos decided to replace each of the 680 service lines in the subdivision.
Mesquite public works officials said the crews are averaging about 70 repairs per day there. More than 2,000 fixes have been made in the city to date.
City inspectors meet Atmos officials and plan one week’s worth of work, which is performed in alleys behind homes. Four repair crews and two paving crews work each site.
But officials in Garland, the second-largest city in Dallas County and site of 13,255 of the lines, said Thursday that they had had no contact with Atmos.
Sandra Doyle, director of public affairs for Atmos’ Mid-Tex division, said the company will use door hangers and fliers to inform customers of coming work.
Crews will try to do the work by digging a small hole to the service line, then threading new, bright yellow plastic pipe inside the old line. In the best case, Atmos says, it doesn’t have to turn off gas service or dig up the yard. The crew leaves the old pipeline in the ground.
But in some cases, Atmos must turn off service and dig in the street and yard to remove the old pipeline. Atmos buries its lines 18 inches below ground. Before turning the gas back on, by law there must be a pressure test to ensure the home’s lines are safe. A pressure test can be performed by a certified master plumber, says Mike Duncan of Duncan Plumbing Solutions.
Atmos’ vice president of governmental and public affairs, Junior Aston, said there probably aren’t enough trained workers in Texas to replace all 2.2 million lines in two years. “Right now, we’ve hired as many as we found out there,” he said. Q&A What exactly is being replaced?
- Natural-gas service lines made of steel. Service lines are the ones that carry natural gas from under neighborhood streets to meters.
- Why are steel lines a problem?
Steel can corrode and break under the pressure of shifting soil.
- Is my neighborhood a likely candidate for this work?
The age of your home is an indicator. Steel was used for service lines from the 1950s to the 1980s.
- When will crews show up in my neighborhood?
At Atmos’ current replacement rate of 500 per week, the project could take nearly 20 years.
- What will this cost me?
The $500 to $1,000 cost to replace each line is likely to be passed along to ratepayers.
- Any other potential costs?
By law, when the meter is shut off, there must be a gas pressure-test to make sure the system is operating properly. If pressure is lost on your home’s side of the meter, you’ll have to take care of it before getting gas service restored. Maintenance of the lines between the meter and the home and those inside the house is the homeowner’s responsibility.
What if I have steel lines on my property?
A certified plumber, such as Duncan Plumbing Solutions can install a gas line. The pressure test is required before service is restored.
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