Pipe replacement underway after fatal explosion



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Posted on January 23, 2013 at 11:14 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 24 at 12:39 PM

AUSTIN-- In the same neighborhood where a gas explosion killed a single father last winter, homeowners woke up Wednesday morning to the smell of gas.

They expected to see Texas Gas crews working, but the smell of gas worried them.

"Everybody in the neighborhood is reasonably nervous about the whole entire thing," said Steven Phenix.

Nervous because a little more than a year ago, about a half mile away, a gas explosion killed 43-year-old Renald Ferrovecchio. The single father had complained about a possible leak for weeks before the explosion.

The state cited Texas Gas for three safety violations. A wrongful death civil suit is still pending.

The Defenders learned older cast iron pipes, like the one that cracked in front of Ferrovecchio's home are prone to failure, especially during a drought. Federal officials recommended gas companies repair or replace them in 1991 and again in 2011.

After Ferrovecchio's home exploded, Texas Gas crews did reinforce the cast iron gas pipe along Payne Avenue.

The company also reinspected the 32 miles of cast iron pipe in its system and found they were safe, however, even a year later, Texas Gas won't tell KVUE its replacement plan.

Wednesday, KVUE found several holes throughout the Brentwood neighborhood. Old pipe was being removed, and what looked like new Polyethylene pipes were going in. 

When The Defenders asked Texas Gas Service about the work being done, the company said, "Currently we are completing a mainline replacement project that began late last year."

"Small and controlled releases of natural gas during the replacement process can cause a natural gas odor," the company added.

That's information Phenix and Anna Munoz said they didn't have.

"They just said here's our contractor and they'll be here such and such a date through such and such a date," said Phenix.

"We don't know if it is age-related, if it is shifting, what? We don't know," said Munoz.

Phenix and Munoz moved to the Brentwood neighborhood for the family atmosphere. They like many of their neighbors are in search of comfort. Still they wonder if their homes are safe.

"We don't want another accident like that (Ferrovecchio’s) definitely," said Munoz. 

The Texas Railroad Commission issued new rules last March, which require all gas companies to set a schedule to replace high risk pipes, including cast iron.

KVUE asked the state for a copy of the Texas Gas Service plan, but the commission told us it doesn’t keep it on file.

Neither Texas Gas nor the Railroad Commission will tell us where the rest of these high risk pipes are located or the timeline to replace them.