Feds charge Atmos Energy with neglect of gas leaks; Atmos blames third parties

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Atmos Energy VP Bobby Morgan

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its findings on February 20 about the gas explosions that destroyed three homes in South Jackson and killed an 82 year old woman on January 24. The report claimed that Atmos Energy knew of leaks in the gas pipes and chose not to take action, categorizing the leaks as “non-hazardous.”

Criminal trial investigator Hannah Gallagher published the NTSB report online and did not hold back on pointing out Atmos’ alleged culpability.

“These devastating explosions were preventable and Atmos Energy should have made the necessary repairs to address the faulty pipes. Instead, they neglected this community, leading to tragedy,” Gallagher wrote. 

“I work with attorneys who have handled similar gas explosion cases, wrongful death, and negligence cases against major energy companies,” she said. “This is an ongoing issue nationwide, especially in disadvantages communities, that must be addressed.”

Atmos, Jackson’s natural gas supplier, in turn, blamed third party utility companies for most of the gas disruptions reported in late January and more recently in a number of other locations across Mississippi.

In a Feb. 13 town hall meeting at Greater Mount Olive M.B. Church in South Jackson, Ward 4 City Councilman Brian Grizzell joined Atmos Energy Vice President Bobby Morgan and Central District Public Service Commissioner De’Keither Stamps in an attempt to explain why investigations of these and similar explosions are now underway across the state rather than in Jackson alone. 

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.

The problem of mysterious home explosions and resulting fires has become a much larger problem statewide than anyone suspected until recently. 

Two home explosions in late January, one that ended in the death of 82-year-old Clara Barbour on Bristol Blvd., and the other, on January 27, at an abandoned house on Shalimar Avenue, raised public concerns over the possible disruption of gas pipelines. 

One of the survivors of the Bristol Blvd. tragedy said they smelled gas before the fire broke out. Fire investigators reported early on that gas may have been a factor in the explosion. Atmos Energy arrived early on the scene to cut off the gas line. 

Stamps said the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has an ongoing investigation in a number of areas around the state. 

“After that second house fire, the alarm bells started going off that this may be a bigger problem than what we initially looked at,” Stamps said. “The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the two Jackson house fires. We don’t know the direct cause yet, but we’re going to investigate the issue and let the chips fall where they may.”  

Having arrived from an investigation in Bolivar County earlier in the day, Stamps said “This is not just a local problem. A crew that was installing broadband internet in Bolivar County hit a gas line on Monday [Feb. 12]. We’ve got good people from all over the country working on this issue.” 

“As we look at this issue across the state, we see that this is not just a South Jackson problem,” Stamps said. “I appreciate Atmos being responsive to getting that situation taken care of.”

Atmos is in constant surveillance of the city’s gas lines, Stamps said. the company uses an Advanced Mobile Leak Detector (AMLD) – “the sniffer.”

“It’s being deployed all over the state and what it does is it goes down your street at night and it can detect the presence of natural gas,” he said. “It’s so sensitive that it can tell if your pilot light is out on your hot water heater, just by driving down the street. That’s happened a few times. Whenever the alarm goes off, they get out, knock on somebody’s door and tell them their pilot light is out.” 

All of Ward 4 and most of Jackson has been surveyed for possible gas explosions, Stamps said. And they’re moving beyond Jackson at this point. The areas that need to be worked on have been identified. 


Atmos Energy public affairs Vice President Bobby Morgan, a native of Jackson, said his company has a longstanding policy of placing the safety of the people of Jackson as their top concern.

“You don’t have to worry about Atmos Energy,” Morgan said. “We’ve been doing work in this community for many years. Third party contractors are a real problem. They’re the biggest threat to the investment we make in our infrastructure in the ground. Third party damage is the biggest investment of all. That’s why the commissioner was in the Delta earlier today. A third party contractor, someone not associated with Atmos Energy, damaged our line. 

“I want everyone here to know that you should take a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that whether it’s AMLD, or whether it’s our current technician, we use state of the art equipment and technology,” Morgan said. “We’re doing the best we can for everyone here.”

Hours after the second incident, Atmos marshalled its resources from the 8 states and brought 130 additional personnel to Jackson to monitor its system and to undertake accelerated infrastructure repair, Morgan said.

“This is nothing new that we’re doing,” he said. “We’ve done infrastructure replacement programs in Jackson going back through the years. In the last five years, we’ve donated $400 million to the area, with $150 million of that for Jackson.”

“We’re not just digging up a lot of stuff and not fixing the problem, “Morgan said.

“Atmos is monitoring and surveying from South Jackson to the rest of the city.” 

“During the surveying, if a problem is found, Atmos notifies the homeowner immediately and if a large plume shows up on the driver’s screen, they’ll call in one of the technicians, who’ll knock on your door and tell you what the problem is. 

“We go out and investigate each and every one of those indications that the AMLD car identified. It could be anything with a methane content. We identify it and if it’s something the city should be taking care of, we notify the city.”


 Atmos should not be blamed for the many potholes and annoying patchwork found on so many of Jackson’s streets, a senior company official spokesman. 

“We rarely dig holes in the street,” Atmos Southern Region Vice President Roy Moss said. “There are some cases when our main service is in the street. But, typically, our main services are backup curb. But when we do have to dig in the streets to go down and do our work, we’re going to put down temporary rock and fill. Those locations are identified, recorded. And we send people back to make permanent repairs.”

Before Atmos begins repair of any of its projects, company crews identify all of the utilities in the area by using soft-digging techniques, Moss said. It’s called “daylighting” because the workmen can see the other utilities’ infrastructure before they begin work on their own. The Atmos damage rate compared to other utilities is relatively low, he said.

Grizzell advised the group of 30 present to note the location of a pothole and to report it to the 311 telephone service as soon as possible. 

“The number-one rule,” he says, “if you see a pothole, report it. Call 311. I say that because if a driver hits a pothole and calls Risk Management and if the pothole was not previously recorded, the city is not liable. That’s true for any municipality. No matter what you do, report those potholes.

“If you or someone else damages their car on that pothole, the city will take care of it,” he said. “But we’re seeing far too often that people are not reporting the pothole, and then they hit it and there’s nothing the city’s willing to do because the city is not liable. If you want to take a picture of it, you can do that. And give the nearest intersection. Just make sure that you’re recording these potholes, because if you hit one and it’s not recorded, the city’s not going to pay.”

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Feds charge Atmos Energy with neglect of gas leaks; Atmos blames third parties

By Earnest McBride
March 3, 2024