Las Vegas dodges gas shortage

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Mayor says pressure dropped due to high demand

By Tom McDonald

Las Vegas dodged the natural gas crisis that shook much of New Mexico late last week for one basic reason — the city gets its gas from Colorado, not western Texas.

Still, the city didn’t go through last week’s cold-weather snap without a scare of its own. With last week’s heating demands, pressure in the city’s gas lines dropped dramatically, according to city officials.

“We were very fortunate,” Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said Friday. “We didn’t have a shortage of gas but we did have our pressure go down. It needs to be at least 200 pounds but we got to as low as 50 pounds … We took emergency meansures and were able to restore (the pressure).”

The pressure was restored by bypassing one line on the system, so that by Friday morning “we were back in excess of 200 pounds pressure,” the mayor explained.

City Manager Timothy Dodge said the pressure reduction was caused by the increased usage and the cold weather itself, which compressed the gas in the pipeline.

“We get our gas out of Colorado instead of West Texas,” so the city never faced a gas shortage, he said.

Thousands of New Mexicans, however, weren’t so fortunate. After two straight nights of extremely cold weather across the state, demand was soaring. New Mexico Gas Company said rolling blackouts in West Texas impeded the delivery of natural gas to New Mexico, cause disruptions in service to areas in and around Bernalillo, Placitas, Taos, Questa, Red River and parts of Albuquerque, Silver City, Alamogordo, Tularosa and La Luz. The outage caused about 32,000 New Mexico Gas Company customers to go without service, a company official said, and by Saturday evening about 5,900 of them had their service restored.

Emergency shelters were set up in several areas to house people who lacked the ability to keep their homes heated.

On Thursday, Gov. Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency, ordered government offices be shut down Friday and urged schools to “strongly consider” remaining closed for the day. She also urged residents to turn down their thermostats, bundle up and shut off appliances they don’t need.

The emergency declaration was continued into the weekend as crews scrambled to restore natural gas service to customers throughout New Mexico and Arizona.

Martinez also urged people to curb electrical use to prevent blackouts and allow compressors to function so the state can get natural gas supplies.

“The use of electricity and the use of natural gas are not isolated; one is impacting the other,” she said.

Las Vegas’ mayor echoed her sentiments.

“We will need to help by conserving electricity,” he said.

“All this just goes to show how people need to work together to address all these problems,” he said, likening it to the possibility that “Las Vegas will have a shortage of water someday, and we need to be prepared for a shortage.”

In addition to the governor’s emergency declaration, Taos Mayor Darren Cordova also declared a state of emergency in his community after gas service was disrupted. He urged area residents to conserve electricity to prevent an outage of that energy source.

The state’s largest electrical utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico, asked customers in the southern New Mexico communities of Alamogordo, Tularosa and Ruidoso to reduce their use of electricity because a transmission line serving the area was over capacity.

The overload occurred because a second line into the area was out of service, but PNM said crews were repairing that line.

Officials also warned about overusing fireplaces or stoves for heating. Several fires were reported in the Taos area caused by over-burning, although no injuries were reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.