Nikkie Hunter, council member for Arlington’s District 3, said she is 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 of three neighborhoods — Deer Valley, Glenn Meadows and La Frontera — after they were left without natural gas pressure for several days, or a clear picture of the fixes Atmos would 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 could have snow in another week or so, and 80 degrees (Fahrenheit temperatures) after that.”
Jonathan Ingols, assistant fire chief, said the neighborhood is at the end of one of the company’s gas pipelines. Although Atmos has yet to validate the cause of the incident, Ingols says increased demand from the rest of the homes on the pipeline likely took out the supply.
Deer Valley residents say the company planned to install additional lines going directly to the community after the deadly winter freeze in February 2021. Two people who spoke to KERA News say that didn’t happen.
Candis Jones says neighbors found out the work wasn’t done during the cold snap when the temperature in their homes dropped. Meanwhile, reports from the company and on the news did not mention disruptions.
“It was just shocking to us to hear that everything was fine and we’re sitting here freezing,” says Jones. “We were also under the assumption that after the problem in 2021, that the problem was fixed, only to find out while freezing that it wasn’t.”
Ingols said the fire department has asked Atmos for maps of their lines, particularly in areas 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 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.
Governor Greg Abbott called for an investigation into Atmos in a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton. He said the company failed to communicate its needs — or its failures — at a critical time for energy customers during talks with the Texas Energy Reliability Council.
“Substantial evidence supports the conclusion that Atmos Energy was either unprepared for the winter weather system, failed to perform for its customers as promised, or both,” Abbott wrote. “Texans deserve natural gas suppliers that live up to their commitment.”
The Texas Railroad Commission announced an investigation into Atmos’ operations during the frigid weather. The commission asked for data on the number of affected customers, an explanation of low pressure, status and data for the pipeline and system capacity and Atmos’ plan to prevent future disruptions.
An Atmos Energy spokesperson did not respond to 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.”
“It is not acceptable. And while we worked to restore service as quickly and safely as possible, we regret this service interruption. We are committed to working with our regulators and key stakeholders to resolve these issues in order to provide reliable natural gas service to all our customers, says the statement.
A wintry repeat of February 2021
Just like in February 2021, Deer Valley neighbors became a lifeline to each other, both through in-person visits and posts on their Facebook page for homeowners.
Jones learned from the side that others were having problems, not just her family. As in early 2021, neighbors checked on elderly residents, as well as those who were ill.
“We had a lot of neighbors going to turn people’s pilot lights back on,” she said. “We had our neighbor who was in touch with Atmos, so we weren’t all calling.”
Candis Jones’ family huddled near the home’s two heaters. That didn’t give Jones much time to wrap presents.
“We just weren’t in the spirit to do things because you’re just 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 battled the cold temperatures while recovering from pneumonia. She ended up spending 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 place because Atmos never fixed the problem. We walked together as a neighborhood again, but this time we’re just angry!”
Jones said she wants answers before more cold snaps set in during the coldest months of the year.
“It’s just really scary knowing that we’re in December and we’re going into our colder months and we’re still unsure if we have cold like that, we want heat,” she said.
Do you have a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at [email protected] You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.
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