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Greg Abbott calls for investigation into Atmos Energy after gas services disruption

The Dallas skyline is seen behind White Rock Lake from Winfrey Point. The skyline is foggy and the sky is dark following a freezing cold frony.
Emil Lippe
/
for The Texas Tribune
The Dallas skyline is barely visible from Winfrey Point in Dallas on Dec. 22, 2022. Temperatures dropped from 45 degrees at 9 a.m. to 25 degrees shortly before noon.

Atmos, a major natural gas provider for the state, issued a conservation notice and reported low pressure issues during last week’s freeze.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asked the attorney general and the head of the state agency that regulates oil and gas drilling to investigate Atmos Energy, the state’s largest natural gas provider, for a failure to prepare for the frigid temperatures that slammed the state last week.

On Dec. 23, Dallas-based Atmos asked its 2 million customers around Texas to conserve their gas use by lowering their thermostats, not using gas fireplaces and refraining from using their washers, dryers and ovens throughout an unusually frigid Christmas weekend.

The company reported low gas pressure in cities across North and Central Texas that left some customers without heat.

“Gas line pressure is insufficient for most furnace heaters and as a result, not functioning,” a viewer of KXAN Austin wrote to the station. “So while gas is on for stoves, it won’t work for pressure sensitive furnace heaters. No idea on actual wait times but was on hold for over 70 minutes on the emergency line for ATMOS with no response.”

KXAN reported that the company tweeted that customer service lines were down for the holidays; that tweet has been deleted. In an emailed comment, Atmos Energy told the Tribune Wednesday that the company had a responsibility that “includes undertaking operational planning and preparation to provide such safe and reliable service all throughout the year.”

“Despite those preparations, last week, we fell short for some of our customers who experienced interruptions in their natural gas service. That is not acceptable,” the company's statement read, adding that Atmos will work with regulators to address the issues.

“Leading up to, and during the winter event, State of Texas agencies worked around the clock to mobilize resources and assist utilities in any way possible,” Abbott wrote in a letter to Railroad Commission Chair Christi Craddick. “At no time did Atmos Energy request assistance. Atmos’ conduct is unacceptable and concrete action must be taken ... to ensure it is not repeated the next time that winter weather engulfs our state.”

On Dec. 23, the Texas Railroad Commission confirmed to The Texas Tribune that it was aware of Atmos’ “localized low-pressure issues,” which they attributed to extremely high demand during the dip in temperatures, and said the company’s customer call center was open.

“Atmos Mid-Tex reported there is no gas supply issues overall in the system at this time,” Andrew Keese, spokesperson for the Railroad Commission, told the Tribune.

“Because we are just beginning the winter season, and because customers of Atmos deserve to have reliable natural gas service during this winter,” Abbott wrote in his letter, “there is an urgency to have [the] investigation concluded in a matter of weeks.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/12/28/greg-abbott-atmos-energy-texas/.