Atmos Energy Puts the Flame in DFW Airport Eateries

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The open flame has revolutionized restaurant kitchens at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport terminals, allowing The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que and Ling & Louie’s Asian Bar & Grill, among others, to open up.

DFW Airport wanted higher-end restaurants in its terminals as it remodeled them as part of the multibillion-dollar TRIP program. But these restaurants demanded something the terminals didn’t have: Natural gas.

Michael DeArmond, account manager for Atmos, and Robert Shaddox, project specialist for Atmos, at the new gas meter at Terminal B. (Photo by Nicholas Sakelaris)

Michael DeArmond, account manager for Atmos, and Robert Shaddox, project specialist for Atmos, at the new gas meter at Terminal B. (Photo by Nicholas Sakelaris)

That’s where Atmos Energy comes in.

The Dallas-based natural gas utility spent the last several years running natural gas lines to all five DFW Airport terminals, building meters at each one.

Robert Shaddox, a project specialist for Atmos, gave Dallas Innovates an up-close look at the new gas line that they put into Terminal B. There’s a meter just off International Parkway that feeds a pipeline that goes through the floor and onto the ceiling of the terminal. The airport can drop that line down to any restaurant that needs it.

The line at Terminal D is the most recent, and stretches for about a mile on the roof.

Before starting the project, DFW Airport consulted with other major airports that already had natural gas lines. There are concerns about running a line through a terminal, such as what happens if there’s a leak.

Evacuating a terminal full of people who have already gone through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening would be a huge hassle, Shaddox explained. Atmos has met with the DFW Airport fire department to develop a protocol if such an incident occurs.

Historically, when the airport’s fire department responds to reports of a natural gas smell in the terminals, it’s actually been sewer gas.

“Now they have to have a completely different mindset when responding to calls,” Shaddox said.

The new meter that supplies natural gas to restaurants in Terminal B. (Photo by Nicholas Sakelaris)

The new meter that supplies natural gas to restaurants in Terminal B. (Photo by Nicholas Sakelaris)

The immediate solution would be to shut natural gas off to that terminal as soon as possible. The fire department also has a large fan that resembles a miniature jet engine on a flatbed truck that it could use to remove natural gas from a terminal.

Even without the new restaurant connections, DFW Airport would be a big Atmos customer with its entire fleet of buses, shuttles, employee and operations vehicles all running on compressed natural gas.

The CNG fleet, a total of 345 vehicles, drives a combined 13 million miles annually. Even with cheaper gasoline prices, natural gas saved the airport $1.8 million in the past 12 months compared to diesel.

The airport also estimates that its natural gas fleet consumes 2.3 million diesel gallon equivalents of natural gas per year. That’s 312 diesel tankers per year that would have to go to the airport to keep the fleet running. Instead, they are fueled by natural gas from pipelines.

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Robert Corsey fills his DFW Airport bus with compressed natural gas at the fueling station. (Photo by Nicholas Sakelaris)

Not only is the airport a large natural gas customer but it’s also a large producer. Before natural gas prices plummeted, Chesapeake Energy drilled and used hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to tap the Barnett Shale throughout the 18,000-acre airport.

Much of the natural gas produced at the airport ends up being processed and sold to Atmos, who sells it to customers.

Looking ahead, Atmos wants to replace the de-icer system on the SkyTrain, the train that takes travelers around to the different terminals. The current system is electric but Atmos wants to replace it with a natural gas version.

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