DALLAS — More than two dozen homes in north and central Texas have blown up since 2006 along a network of pipelines operated by one of the largest natural gas companies in the U.S, leading to nine deaths and badly injuring at least 22 other people, a newspaper reported Sunday.
The Dallas Morning News reported that Atmos Energy Corp. has some of the nation's oldest pipes in the country and that the company's largest division, Atmos Mid-Tex, has received five times as many state safety violations as Houston's CenterPoint, the other large gas distribution company in Texas.
Atmos Energy has reported $3.3 billion in profits since 2005. The newspaper reported that the company would not discuss individual accidents but said it was not at fault.
Atmos Energy said safety violations are only alleged and that any problems cited by state regulators are fixed. It also noted that the number of citations peaked in 2013 and has markedly declined since then, which the company says reflects its emphasis on safety.
"Since 2005, we have been pouring profits back into the system," says Elizabeth Beauchamp, an Atmos spokeswoman.
In a statement, Atmos Energy said its employees wake up every day resolutely dedicated to our mission to keep people safe."
A pipeline safety expert said Atmos Energy's track record should worry Texas residents.
The many accidents and state safety citations over the years "suggest Atmos really needs to up its game in terms of creating a safety culture," said Rebecca Craven, program director for the Pipeline Safety Trust, a national nonprofit group.
Records show Atmos Energy seldom accepts responsibility for explosions, the newspaper reported. The company blamed lightning strikes and other bad weather, poor soil conditions in North Texas, mysterious sources of underground gas or careless digging by construction crews.
Atmos Energy told regulators last year that 500 miles of cast iron pipes remain in its network and that it will it need at least three more years to remove them. Federal officials have urged the removal of cast iron pipes since the 1980s. In Houston, CenterPoint removed virtually all of its cast iron gas pipes more than two decades ago.
More than a third of Atmos Energy's pipes were installed before 1940, the company reported to federal regulators last year. Among the country's big operators, only one, in Philadelphia, had such a significant share of old pipes.
Atmos Energy officials say that older pipes aren't necessarily more problematic, and that only one of the accidents highlighted by newspaper involved pre-1940 pipes.
"Although we'd like to replace all older pipelines immediately, just like with replacing older roads and bridges, replacing pipe takes time and resources," the company said in a statement.