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Nov 17, 2005

Bad Maps Blamed For Gas Surge That Cost $160,000

Investigators for the Texas Railroad Commission say that poor construction maps used by Atmos Energy contributed to a natural gas surge that damaged several businesses in Fort Worth, Texas, causing an estimated $160,000 in damages.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram also reported that the commission's report states that inaccurate and out-of-date maps hampered the company's ability to locate gas leaks caused by the overload. Despite its name, the Texas Railroad Commission governs natural gas and petroleum pipelines throughout the state. Staff members have recommended Atmos Energy be fined $50,000, the maximum allowable under law. They are also requiring the company to institute safeguards to catch mapping inaccuracies and to ensure proper maps are used in the future. The gas surge forced the closure of 15 square blocks of the downtown area, including several high-rise office buildings. The $160,000 in damages does not include revenue lost by shops and businesses that had to close early.

The surge occurred when an Atmos contractor relocated an underground gas line. The contractor mistakenly connected a low-pressure gas line to a high-pressure line. The tie-in overloaded the low-pressure line and caused several fires. Atmos' and the contractor's maps did not match, even though they had the same date. To make matters worse, the commission's report says that efforts to quickly locate other gas lines where leaks had occurred, "severely suffered" because of inaccurate and out-of-date maps, which didn't accurately represent the gas lines underground. Atmos says that it is converting to a new mapping system and is searching for inaccuracies during the transition.