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Atmos botched communication over North Texas gas disruption, lawmaker says

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More than 200 people were left without heat or hot water during last month's winter chill due to a natural gas shortage. Many still don't know why.

A North Texas lawmaker wants the state’s largest natural gas provider to answer for widespread shortages that left hundreds of homes in Grand Prairie and Arlington without heat or hot water in the midst of last month’s winter freeze.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, sent an open letter to Atmos Energy Thursday demanding to know why, among other things, the company failed to communicate with his constituents and his office.

Turner said he has “serious concerns regarding Atmos Energy’s continued inability to supply adequate natural gas service.”

In addition to residential structures losing power, Turner highlighted his worries that the City of Grand Prairie lost gas pressure to critical infrastructure, including two fire stations.

“This was beyond an inconvenience,” he wrote. “[T]he fire department had to take extraordinary measures to prevent water in tanker trucks from freezing so they could continue to be prepared to respond to a fire.”

The outage caused the cities of Arlington and Grand Prairie to incur unanticipated expenses to keep essential services afloat. Turner said he wants to know what Atmos’ plan is to reimburse the cities.

Atmos did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Turner's letter comes as residents of three Arlington neighborhoods have raised questions about how Atmos prepared for cold weather in the wake of the February 2021 winter freeze. Some in Deer Valley told KERA News that, while the company had plans to add direct gas lines to the community after last year's storm, those changes still aren't in place.

In his letter, Turner outlined 13 questions he wants answers to – in writing – including an explanation of the communication breakdown.

“Why has Atmos repeatedly refused to answer basic questions from the public and news media about this episode - what happened, why it happened and will it happen again?” he wrote.

He also pressed for answers as to why the energy company did not update constituents in real time throughout the outage. He claimed the company, “[told] the City of Grand Prairie [they] were not notifying residents about how to report outages for fear of getting too many complaints.”

The letter also expresses Turner’s frustration with Atmos’ lack of transparency during the service restoration process, and concluded his four-page letter by asking what assurances the company can provide to his constituents to ensure that, “there will not be a repeat gas shortage this winter or in the future.”

On Dec. 28, Gov. Greg Abbott sent his own letter to the Texas Railroad Commission asking the agency to open an urgent investigation into Atmos’ failures.

Turner voiced his support for the investigation, writing that the investigation is “completely warranted.”

Born in London, Morning Producer and Podcast Host Katherine Hobbs has lived across the U.S. since 2001. Prior to joining KERA, she produced three podcasts for WJCT Public Media and Florida Public Media and wrote for Jacksonville Magazine, Autism Parenting Magazine and EU Jacksonville, among others. Katherine is thrilled to return to Texas after briefly living in Austin to share the stories that impact our North Texas community. When she’s not working, Katherine can be found admiring public libraries and visiting penguin colonies around the world.