Oversight bills considered as gas leak problems remain in Georgetown

Williamson County

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — The effects of a natural gas leak are still being felt by many in Georgetown, as state lawmakers consider additional oversight about pipeline safety. 

Three bills filed by State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) were set to be reviewed Monday by the Texas House Commitee on Energy Resources. Anchia introduced House Bills 864, 866 and 868 after 12-year-old Linda “Michellita” Rogers died in a Dallas gas explosion in Feb. 2018. 

“Last year’s natural gas explosion affected the entire Dallas community,” Anchia wrote in a news release. “As a legislator, and more importantly a father, I am committeed to pursuing meaningful legislation that will improve safety in the system. Monday’s hearting will move us one step closer to realizing that goal.” 

HB 864 would specify what information natural gas companies would have to provide the Railroad Commission of Texas following a pipeline-related incident, like a leak. That oversight agency would have to keep that information forever, and companies would be required to report any leaks within an hour. 

HB 866 relates to the removal of all cast-iron pipes across the state by December 31, 2021. If the bill is ultimately approved, operators would not be allowed to install a cast iron, wrought iron, or bare steel pipe in the future.

HB 868 would make natural gas companies publish information about leaks on an interactive, searchable map on their websites. 

Atmos Energy currently has a map available on a website dedicated to the Georgetown situation, which shows areas that remain evacuated due to unsafe natural gas levels in the ground. 

An Atmos spokesperson reported Monday that people still cannot go into 39 businesses and 56 homes. The company, however, has lifted 45 evacuations so far.

The Sherwin-Williams paint store in Georgetown was among the businesses that reopened Monday for the first time since March 1, much to the excitement of store manager Justin Rich. 

“It was great. I was so happy,” Rich said. “It’s been a long time we’ve been out. It’s been tough.” 

He said he’s generally satisfied with the communication that he got from Atmos during those five weeks. 

“Maybe a little more communication on their side actually contacting me might have been nicer,” he said, “versus me contacting them every day.” 

Crews found the natural gas leak on Feb. 20 near Williams and River Bend Drives and already fixed it. The issue, Atmos contends, is the soil not allowing the trapped gas to evacuate quickly. 

On Monday a sign outside Allen Chiropractic Neurology on Goldens Oaks Drive read, “We are open and survived the great gas leak of 2019.” Julia Allen’s clinic evacuated on March 1 and stayed close until it got the all-clear on Friday. 

“Thrilled, joyful — I’m not sure I know the right adjective to describe it,” she said. “It was almost like falling in love again because we were so excited to be back.”

Allen described her interactions with Atmos during that time as “good.” 

“Of course the updates, there was no new information, and that was what was a little frustrating,” Allen said. “They [Atmos] were very good at contacting us, but they would just tell us the readings are high. We can’t get back in yet. They’re doing everything they can, but they were good about talking to us.”

Skyler Reed, the chief operating officer for St. David’s Georgetown Hospital sent KXAN a statement about its facility on Williams Drive reopening this week, too. 

“St. David’s Georgetown Hospital’s Lake Aire outpatient rehabilitation facility was evacuated and closed on March 1 due to an underground natural gas leak in Georgetown. The Lake Aire outpatient rehab facility is expected to reopen later this week.

In an effort to minimize disruption to patient care, patients were referred to nearby facilities—including St. David’s Georgetown Hospital, St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center and the Sun City outpatient rehabilitation center—for continued outpatient rehabilitation services.

Through close communication with the City of Georgetown and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, we took the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our facility, including continuous monitoring of natural gas levels both inside and outside the building.”

It’s unclear when the rest of the residents and business owners will be able to return yet.

The Railroad Comission of Texas is investigating Atmos for what unfolded in Georgetown. The agency’s communciations director, Rich Parsons, told KXAN in an email late Monday that it brought in “an environmental consulting firm to do an independent administrative review of Atmos’ plan to ensure compliance with established best practices.”  

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