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Atmos Energy settles house explosion suit after girl’s death

May 31, 2019 GMT

DALLAS (AP) — Atmos Energy has settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the family of a 12-year-old girl who was killed in a 2018 natural gas explosion at her home in northwest Dallas.

The terms of the settlement have not been revealed, but the attorney for the family of Linda “Michellita” Rogers says the girl’s parents are pleased.

A gas buildup led to the explosion that killed Michellita in February 2018. The lawsuit accused Atmos of “gross negligence” by not fixing leaks in its “mismatched Frankensteinian” pipeline system ahead of the explosion.

There had been three such eruptions in the area in three days.

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Atmos evacuated the neighborhood and shut off its gas in the days that followed, relocating around 2,800 residents as crews worked for more than three weeks to change the steel pipes.

But Internal Atmos emails revealed its employees were probing and repairing gas leaks behind the Rogers family home before the explosion that killed Michellita.

The company elected not to evacuate citizens or shut off gas lines, but a worker informed the Texas Railroad Commission, the agency responsible for supervising gas pipeline safety, that their “crews are continuing to monitor the surrounding area for potential leaks.”

A report by the National Transportation Safety Board subsequently discovered that Atmos knew of the gas leaks in the neighborhood on Jan. 1, 2018, almost two months prior to the fatal blast.

The Texas Legislative has since passed two natural gas safety bills that are awaiting the governor’s signature.

They would require natural gas pipeline workers to remove all cast-iron pipes from their systems by the end of 2021. It would also mandate them to increase the number of potentially hazardous pipes they annually replace to 8% from 5%.

The bills came after a probe found that over two dozen homes had blown up in North and Central Texas since 2006. The explosions killed nine people and severely hurt at least 22 others due to natural gas leaks on lines operated by Atmos.

The measure would also prohibit the future use of cast-iron, wrought-iron or bare steel pipes. Cast-iron pipe under some of the blasted homes was nearly 90 years old.