“What Lies Beneath”

Reporter Brett Shipp, producer Jason Trahan, video editor/photographer Billy Bryant, online editor Matt Goodman

In 2011, a house exploded in Dallas, leaving Domingo Mendez, his wife and 5-year-old boy with disfiguring scars.

The cause, investigators determined, was a 19-inch crack in a crumbling, 80-year-old cast iron natural gas pipe under a nearby alley that ignited and turned their home into a fireball. Four years ago, News 8 began chronicling the dangers of natural gas pipeline couplings that, the station’s investigation revealed, had failed in shifting North Texas soils for years, endangering thousands of people. Now a new threat: Hundreds of miles of crumbling cast iron gas transmission lines that, despite decades of warnings from federal regulators, Atmos had ignored and left to rot underground. Our reporting also highlighted lax enforcement by the Texas Railroad Commission, which has become adept at avoiding institutional reform with help from oil and gas lobbyists. Atmos says its gas lines are safe. But, the energy giant would not release a map of all its cast iron pipelines still in use. WFAA, however, obtained a database of cast iron transmission pipe breaks through Atmos’ northern Texas service area. Using Google Fusion Tables, the station’s web desk created an interactive map of the 2,300 breaks and posted the information online. So far, it has generated more than 20,000 page views. Among them, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. He and other local leaders, including Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, say they are disturbed by the thousands of breaks and apparent lack of a plan by Atmos to pull the faulty pipes out of the ground. They have demanded action from Atmos. After our stories ran, Atmos released a statement saying they would double the amount spent last year on cast iron replacement efforts in 2013.

LINK to series online

Submitted by Jason Trahan.

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