Atmos Energy officials register complaints about Feb. 29 report on January gas leaks and explosions

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Two officials of the Atmos Energy corporation based in Dallas, TX, with a branch administrative office in Jackson, have taken issue with the Jackson Advocate report of February 29-March 6, 2024 that carried the headlines “Feds charge Atmos Energy with neglect of gas leaks; Atmos blames third parties.”

Atmos Public Affairs VP Bobby Morgan and his Dallas-based boss Liz Beauchamp, corporate VP of Government and Public Affairs, insisted that the NTSB had not explicitly concluded that Atmos was at fault for not stopping gas leaks before the Jan. 24 and 27, 2024 explosions in South Jackson, although the company was aware of the gas leaks near the two critical sites as early as November and December 2023.

The pair engaged this reporter, the story reporter and Jackson Advocate contributing editor, in a March 6 telephone conversation to “take issue with” his February 29 report.

Morgan’s initial complaint on March 6 was as follows: “We take issue with a few of  the statements written… in the release of that March 4 (Feb. 29-Mar. 6) article two days ago.”

Morgan objected to the “title” (headline) of the article: “Feds charge Atmos Energy with neglect of gas leaks; Atmos blames third parties.”

“That’s just not the case at all,” Morgan said. He referenced the preliminary report of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released Feb. 20, emphasizing the word “preliminary.” The report is an obligatory report 30 days after the event, Morgan pointed out.

“It says the information is preliminary and subject to change,” Morgan added. “The investigation is ongoing. And the final report…. typically, the final report is issued by NTSB a year or a year-and-a-half later.”

Both Morgan and Beauchamp pointed out that the words “charge” and “neglect” in the story headline were not included in the NTSB report.

“As such, we’ve not been charged or blamed for anything at this point. And clearly we are waiting for the Confidentiality (uncertain of terminology: editor) report to come out in a year and working with them (NTSB) in the investigation as well,” they said.


A brief summary of the NTSB investigation and preliminary report weighs in favor of the Jackson Advocate, although the precise terminology may differ to some degree. Any “investigation” implies that the principles of inductive logic – that is, the use of particular pieces of evidence (premises) are used to reach a general conclusion – is a fundamental part of the reasoning process. The NTSB report presented the following basic pieces of evidence: 

“Atmos identified and classified leaks on their distribution system near locations 1 (185 Bristol Blvd.) and 2 (1146 Shalimar Drive). 

“The leak nearest to location 1 was discovered on November 11, 2023.

“The leak nearest to location 2 was discovered on December 1, 2023. 

“Neither leak was repaired before the explosions.”

While NTSB did not specifically “charge Atmos Energy with neglect of gas leaks,” it clearly presented the inference that had Atmos Energy repaired the gas leaks when first discovered the explosions most likely would not have happened. 

In the March 6 telephone conversation with the Jackson Advocate, Morgan repeatedly pointed out the following: “On the 24th and 27th (of January 2024), we shut gas off to both those streets, Shalimar and Bristol, in the interest of public safety to make the area safe.”

The explosions, however, occurred before the leaks were shut off, as the NTSB report said. And, again, Morgan said, “We (Atmos) shut gas off on both of those streets” on Jan. 24th and 27th – AFTER the explosions.

Morgan was also persistent in his effort to shield his gas company, Atmos, from blame in the current crisis before a final report comes from the NTSB in a year or two. 

“The NTSB report references grade  2’s and grade 3’s, grade 2 and grade 3 leaks that were present in those areas,” he said. “We were within federal compliance of those leaks. So, again, I think if you take a look at the NTSB report… and we survey and monitor the system and our response to them to accelerate leak repair…. I think if you take a look at the system…if you look at the preliminary report… I think it does not correlate with the title that you wrote, sir. Again, that’s our main cause of concern out here.”

The NTSB preliminary report goes into a much more detailed account of Atmos’s response to the leaks in the critical areas that were discovered in November and December 2023:

“Before these explosions, Atmos identified and classified leaks on their distribution system near locations 1 (185 Bristol Blvd  and 2 (1146 Shalimar Drive). The leak nearest to location 1 was discovered on November 11, 2023, and classified as a grade-2 leak, meaning that it was nonhazardous but would require repair in the future.[3] The leak nearest to location 2 was discovered on December 1, 2023, and was classified as a grade-3 leak and therefore nonhazardous.[4] Neither leak was repaired before the explosions,” The NTSB report says.

Morgan encourages everyone with concerns about the safety of Jackson’s gas lines to wait for the NTSB’s final report.


NTSB Public Affairs officer Keith Holloway points out that  “the NTSB is not a regulatory agency and therefore does not have any enforcement authority.” The federal agency will issue its safety recommendations during the investigation or as part of its final report “to prevent a similar accident from reoccurring. NTSB recommendations are not geared towards recommending legal or enforcement action.”

The NTSB report says also: “The NTSB’s investigation is ongoing. Future investigative activity will focus on Atmos’ leak assessment methods, evaluation of hazards associated with identified leaks, response to odor complaints, repair criteria, integrity management, and pipeline safety management systems, as well as causal factors.”


Citing the latter part of the February 29-March 6 Jackson Advocate headline, which reads, “Atmos blames third parties,”   both Morgan and Beauchamp said there was never a company statement made that blamed third party utility companies for probing and digging activity that might have  caused the leaks and subsequent explosions. They were very careful, however, to limit their denials to the two explosions of January 24 and 27. Yet, in the accurate Jackson Advocate recordings of statements made by Morgan and at least two other Atmos officials at the Feb. 12 public town hall, there is a high level of concern about third-party intruders on the part of Atmos Energy. 

“The biggest risk to our infrastructure and ground, the biggest risk to the investment we make, the biggest risk at all is third-party damage, someone damaging our lines,” Morgan said in the question-and-answer session at the Feb. 12 town hall. “That’s why the commissioner (De’Keither Stamps) was in the Delta today because a third-party contractor, someone not associated with Atmos, not an Atmos Energy employee, damaged our line.”

An observation presented by Public Service Commissioner De’Keither Stamps fairly early into the February 12 town hall had opened the doorway to a discussion of third-party utility companies causing problems with the gas lines. Stamps had been involved in an investigation of a gas line rupture in Bolivar earlier on the same day as the February 12 town hall. 

“This is not just a local problem,” Stamps said at the meeting. “A crew that was installing broadband Internet in Bolivar County hit a gas line on Monday. We’ve got good people from all over the country working on this issue.” 

While acknowledging the problem of third-party damage as a major concern of Atmos Energy’s, Morgan kept insisting that the incidents of Jan. 24 and 27 were not to be included as an object of blame.

In his complaint last Wednesday (March. 6), Morgan said at point 4:17 of the recorded segment #64 of the conversation: 

“Generally speaking, third-party damage is a safety concern for our… we spend an enormous amount of dollars on a public awareness campaign to educate the public, to educate excavators on the importance of third-party damage and calling 811,” Morgan said.  “But I just think that’s also an important issue within your article that I just wanted to correct as well, sir.”

“The issues of third-party damage in general…. Again, I think things got lost in translation, where no one with the company would suggest that third-party damage was the cause of January 24 and  27….  And my earlier point that it’s an NTSB investigation, that we have tremendous respect for that organization. We know that this investigation is ongoing, so we’re extremely limited in what our public comments are. And so, we would never attribute the causes of the 24th and 27th to a specific issue at this time.”


Morgan and Beauchamp complained last week about the following assertion in the March 3 online version of the Jackson Advocate story: “Atmos claimed that recent house explosions and fires in Southeast Jackson may have resulted from the digging or ground probes of other companies or utility agencies that failed to notify the proper authorities or Atmos of their disruptions.”

Atmos Energy spokespersons, again, did not say explicitly that the house explosions in Southeast or South Jackson were included in their expressed concerns of third-party interlopers who cause problems for Atmos when digging in the grounds near the company’s gas lines.

The Jackson Advocate reporter, again, used the principles of inductive logic, based mostly on a number of statements Morgan and other company representatives made at the Feb. 12 town hall. Some of those statements led the reporter to infer that third-party diggers are subject to suspicion in any unknown or unwitnessed gas line explosion.


When reminded that he had praised Commissioner Stamps’ for his report on the Bolivar County broken gas lines, Morgan again hedged his criticism of third-party causes of damage.

“We appreciate the commissioner for being a champion on calling 811,” he said on the phone. “We’ve always viewed safety as a partnership, and so we’re always promoting in public forums the issues of third-party damage in general. And again, I think things got lost in translation where no one with the company would suggest that third-party damage was the cause of Jan. 24th or 27th.”

Beauchamp allowed Morgan to do most of the speaking during the March 6 phone conversation with the Jackson Advocate. She did, however, weigh in on the concerns of third party damage.

“I think in your article you even state that Commissioner Stamps had come back from Bolivar County. As Bobby said, he had been there to visit where our system had indeed been damaged by a construction crew doing work unrelated to Atmos Energy. It was a broadband company.  (The reporter began to speak, but she continued). You put in the title that we blamed the third party for that. In fact, as Bobby stated, he did not say that third party was to blame for what happened in Jackson,” said Beauchamp. 


Company vice president Roy Voss, who was also present at the Feb. 12 town hall, explained the step-by-step method Atmos uses in its system of  gas line installation and maintenance. 

“From a damage prevention standpoint at Atmos Energy,” he said, “we have a really good system in place. It’s called ‘daylighting’ or ‘potholing.’ And I’m not talking about potholes in the street. What  we do, before we start any project, on the route we’re gonna take, we identify all of the utilities in the area by using soft digging techniques to expose those utilities. We call it ‘daylighting’ because we can actually see the utility before the infrastructure before we start to replace our infrastructure or do work on our infrastructure. Not saying we’ll never damage anything, but our damage rate to other utilities is relatively low. 

“We (Atmos Energy), rarely dig holes in the street,” Voss added. “There are some cases when our main service is in the street. Typically, our main services are back-up curb. But when we do have to dig in the street, and we have to go down and do our work, we’re going to put in temporary rock and fill. Those locations are identified, recorded and we send qualified people back to make the permanent repair. To your point, cold weather and getting the hot mix, and getting all that so we can do the permanent repair.

“We may not be able to get it at that time,” Voss said. “But we are recording any hole that we dig in the street, and it will be permanently repaired.” 

As a gesture of good will and accuracy in reporting while holding true to the journalistic creed to pursue the truth as it is and is known to be, this reporter suggests the following headline should perhaps be substituted for the Feb. 29 story headline: 

“Feds claim that neither of two known leaks was repaired by Atmos Energy before the January explosions; Atmos voices concerns about third-party explorations near its gas lines.”

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Atmos Energy officials register complaints about Feb. 29 report on January gas leaks and explosions

By Earnest McBride
March 18, 2024