Gas leak aftermath: examining who pays the price as Lubbock sees rise in lines cut

Published: May. 10, 2022 at 8:05 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - When contractors or homeowners hit a gas line causing a leak, it’s not just dangerous but costly. There are many rules when it comes to digging underground due to the threat of natural gas. Those include state laws and local ordinances and those determine who pays what.

From January to the end of April, there have been 60 gas leaks reported to the Texas Railroad Commission in Lubbock county. Deputy Chief Nick Wilson says in 2021, Lubbock Fire Rescue responded to more than 400 natural gas incidents.

“If you look at the math, it actually does end up at about roughly one a day, or actually a little more than one a day. That’s including both above ground, say like residential commercial gas meters, as well as the underground incidents as well,” Wilson said. “And then of course, if we look over the last roughly 18 months, just the underground incidents, about 150, and we’re on pace for really about the same or maybe a little more this year, so you say it happens every day and it actually, it really does.”

Ed Espinoza, public affairs manager for Atmos Energy, says the majority of individuals and contractors call 811 before they dig. He says the issue is being safer when it’s time to start moving ground. Josh Flud, the City of Lubbock’s construction inspection supervisor, says gas leaks are caused by a little bit of everything - not calling 811, digging unsafely and mismarks. No matter the cause, each incident has its consequences. For one, LFR sends crews to monitor leaks and help with evacuations.

“There is a very big time and resource commitment that goes into many of these incidents and really that we’ve seen here recently. You know, the one on 82nd St. lasted more than 24 hours, so it they can be very serious and they can be very time intensive to deal with and to try to fix the issue that’s happened,” Wilson said.

One Lubbock family suffered a much bigger consequence in March, the loss of their home. A city pipeline crew struck a gas line while working on a sewer line, causing the home to explode. The railroad commission report shows a possible cause - ‘failure to maintain clearance after verifying marks/failure to use hand tools.’

“When a contractor hits one of our lines, we [Atmos] do send a bill to that contractor for them to pay. If it’s a homeowner, we see what we can do there as far as what happened and how much the cost is,” Espinoza said.

Those who don’t call 811 first can be fined by the state and held liable for damages. Flud says when contractors do everything right and still hit a line, each utility is responsible for their own costs for repairs. Espinoza says Atmos works with the city to keep people safe.

“We continue to have discussions and conversations. What can we do better? How can we make things better and those are ongoing, right? We have those anytime an incident does occur, we have those learning moments. Okay?” Espinoza said. “What can we do better on the next time to make sure that we minimize these damages to underground utilities in the area?”

In March, the City’s Right of Way department added a new section to Lubbock’s Code of Ordinances. It requires homeowners and contractors wanting to dig to register with the city first and get a permit. If they don’t, they can be fined, held responsible for restoration, the City can seize their equipment and they can be denied future permits.

Espinoza stresses the importance of knowing what’s below and calling 811 at least 48-72 hours before digging whether you are a contractor or homeowner.

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