The Texas Railroad Commission issued a report last week after investigating a June explosion at the Elgin, Texas home of Marcus and Victoria Newman, which destroyed the Newmans’ home and severely burned their 17-year-old son, Marcus. The RRC, which includes home propane distribution as part of its energy regulation portfolio, found several safety violations, including a failure by the company that serviced the Newmans’ propane tank to conduct a required inspection.
The RRC report, which included 55 pages of documents, found that the explosion “likely occurred when propane accumulated in the house and was ignited.” The RRC was unable to determine the location of the leak or the source of the ignition for the explosion and was silent on the cause of the explosion.
The RRC did find six safety violations, however. Most seriously, the report found that Direct Propane Services, who filled the Newmans’ propane tank three days before the explosion, failed to perform a required inspection. Regulations require the person servicing the propane tank to perform a leak test if the propane level is low. The RRC found that he Direct Propane Services failed to perform a leak test when they filled the Newmans’ tank even though the tank was at 0% capacity when they arrived.
Propane can present a serious fire hazard when not handled properly. Propane has two characteristics relative to natural gas that make it attractive as a fuel: it is easier to store than natural gas due to its higher boiling point and it yields more energy per unit of volume than natural gas. These characteristics can also make it more dangerous than natural gas in a leak: Unlike natural gas, which is lighter than air and dissipates quickly after a leak, propane is heavier than air and can concentrate near the ground, awaiting an ignition source. Due to propane’s potency, these explosions can be more powerful than an explosion involving an equivalent amount of natural gas.
While propane is a reliable heating source for rural homes, it is imperative that propane distribution systems be serviced properly so that it is safe. If you or someone you know has been injured in a propane or gas explosion, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner by calling 713-396-3964 or 800-594-4884.