Companies Cited for Violations in North Texas Explosion

August 7, 2008

A Texas Railroad Commission has found violations by a natural gas utility and one of its subcontractors connected to a deadly gas-related explosion in a Dallas suburb.

The May 16 explosion destroyed two homes in McKinney and sent three people to hospitals, including a 71-year-old woman who later died. The Dallas County medical examiner’s office ruled Nancy Foster’s death last month was due to complications from burns.

In a report released Aug. 5, the Texas Railroad Commission documented eight violations, six by Atmos Energy Corp. and two by M.J. Sheridan of Texas, whose work crew cut the pipeline.

The Railroad Commission report cited Atmos for violations in the areas of procedures, records, operator qualification, and drug and alcohol testing. The commission faulted M.J. Sheridan for shortcomings in damage prevention.

Frank Branson, an attorney for the Foster family, said he was astounded by the commission’s findings.

“This takes you through the handbook of what not to do,” he told The Dallas Morning News.

Ray Granado, spokesman for Atmos Energy, said in a statement that the company had just received the commission’s report.

“We support our employees, who we believe took appropriate actions at the time of the incident,” the statement said. “We continue to review our practices and protocols in the wake of this tragedy, and will respond further at the appropriate time.”

The report said no homes were evacuated immediately after the 4:30 p.m. rupture and the first call to 911 was made at 5:38 p.m., after the first of three explosions. The report said if emergency officials had been sent sooner, they may have been able to determine whether homes needed to be evacuated.

Each violation carries a maximum fine of $10,000, commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said. She said Atmos and M.J. Sheridan have 30 days to respond.

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