Arlington homeowners want answers after 200 homes left without gas, heat in cold snap
Southeast Arlington residents and city leaders want more answers from Atmos Energy after a late December cold snap left three neighborhoods without heat.
Nikkie Hunter, council member for Arlington's District 3, said she's finalizing plans for a town hall in early February at the Bob Duncan Center, 2800 S. Center St.
Hunter said she hopes Atmos Energy can provide answers to residents in three neighborhoods — Deer Valley, Glenn Meadows and La Frontera — after they were left without natural gas pressure for days, or a clear picture of the fixes Atmos was supposed to make after the February 2021 winter freeze.
"They deserve to have answers," Hunter said. "They deserve to know if this is going to happen again. This is Texas. We can have snow in another week or something, and 80 degrees (Fahrenheit temperatures) after that."
Jonathan Ingols, assistant fire chief, said the neighborhood sits at the end of one of the company's gas pipelines. Though Atmos has not yet validated the reason for the incident, Ingols says increased demand from the rest of the homes on the pipeline likely exhausted the supply.
Residents in Deer Valley say the company planned to install additional lines that went directly to the community after the deadly February 2021 winter freeze. Two who spoke to KERA News say that didn't happen.
Candis Jones says neighbors found out the work had not been completed during the cold snap as the temperature in their homes dropped. Meanwhile, reports from the company and on the news did not mention disruptions.
"It was just shocking for us to be hearing that all was well, and we're sitting here freezing," Jones says. "We were also under the assumption that after the issue in 2021, that the issue was corrected, only to find out while we're freezing that it wasn't."
Ingols said the fire department has asked Atmos for maps of their lines, especially in areas that are likely to experience low pressure during extreme weather.
"If this ever happens again, we'll be able to try to get ahead of it or at least tell the people in those areas that there's a possibility that there could be low pressure," he said.
State officials have also put pressure on Atmos for the low pressure that forced both Arlington and Grand Prairie city governments to open warming centers.
Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation into Atmos in a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton. He said the company did not communicate its needs—or its failures—during a critical time for energy customers during calls with the Texas Energy Reliability Council.
"Substantial evidence supports the conclusion that Atmos Energy either was unprepared for the winter weather system, failed to perform for its customers as promised, or both," Abbott wrote. "Texans deserve natural gas providers that fulfill their commitment."
The Texas Railroad Commission announced an investigation into Atmos' operations during the freezing weather. The commission requested data on the number of customers impacted, an explanation for low pressure, the status and data of the pipeline and system capacity and Atmos' plan to prevent future disruptions.
An Atmos Energy spokesperson did not answer specific questions from KERA News about plans for improvements in southeast Arlington or about Abbott's letter. Instead, they said in a statement that the company "fell short."
"That is not acceptable. And though we worked to restore service as quickly and safely as possible, we apologize for that service disruption. We are committed to working with our regulators and key stakeholders to address those issues in order to provide reliable natural gas service to all our customers," the statement said.
A wintry repeat of February 2021
Just like in February 2021, Deer Valley neighbors became a lifeline for each other, both through in-person visits and posts to their Facebook Homeowners Association page.
Jones learned from the page that others were having problems, not just her family. Much like in early 2021, neighbors were checking on elderly residents, as well as those who were ill.
"We had a lot of neighbors that went to light people's pilot lights again," she said. "We had our neighbor that was in contact with Atmos so we weren't all calling."
The family of Candis Jones huddled together near their home's two space heaters. That didn't leave Jones much time to wrap presents.
"We just weren't really in the spirit of doing things because you're just kind of in survival mode," Jones said. "So many of my gifts, I just told my kids, you know, we just didn't have the opportunity to wrap them."
Meanwhile, Gail Berlin contended with the cold temperatures while recovering from pneumonia. She ultimately spent one night in a hotel room, and another night with her daughter in Richardson for respite.
Berlin said she and other neighbors feel betrayed by Atmos.
"We worked so hard as a neighborhood during snowmageddon to keep everyone safe," Berlin wrote in a Facebook message. "Here we are now in the same spot because Atmos never fixed the problem. We pulled together as a neighborhood again but this time we are just angry!"
Jones said she wants answers before more cold snaps set in during the coldest months of the year.
"It's just really frightening to know that we're in December and we're going into our colder months, and we're still unsure if we have cold snaps like that, we will have heat," she said.
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