Los Alamos County sets up shelter location as natural gas cutoffs affect thousands across New Mexico

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Tens of thousands of people across New Mexico were without natural gas service Thursday, and the crisis continues Friday.


Los Alamos County has activated the Emergency Operations Center at Los Alamos National Laboratory in order to coordinate resources and closely monitor the community’s gas supply situation during these low and dangerously cold temperatures.

The EOC is also beginning to evaluate options for offering shelter at locations in Los Alamos and White Rock for local residents and those in nearby communities without gas or power who may need assistance.

Early Thursday evening, the county set up a 10-bed shelter at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church on Canyon Road. At about 5:30 p.m. County Emergency Management Coordinator Philmont Taylor together with other county personnel and members of the Red Cross placed blankets and other items on cots in the church hall.

Los Alamos Fire Chief Doug Tucker is in charge of the current EOC operation and said that the shelter is in place in the event that as people arrive home from work they find they lack heat or have other reasons for needing the shelter.

As a result of Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities’ (DPU) location on a natural gas pipeline that runs from the Four Corners area, the townsite is unaffected by the recent shut off of natural gas in many communities across Northern New Mexico.

That doesn’t mean Los Alamos is completely immune, however; any problems that occur to the natural gas infrastructure could completely change the situation.

DPU Manager John Arrowsmith said, “Because the demand is so high on the gas line because of the weather, (New Mexico Gas Company) doesn’t have enough gas to maintain pressure in Taos, Red River and Española. So they have turned them off in order to try to maintain pressure here and in Albuquerque.”

In response to the problem, Arrowsmith said compressors are being run to regain the pressure. Also, Arrowsmith said New Mexico Gas Company will probably look to do infrastructure improvements. Arrowsmith said he has heard from news reports that it could be three days before residents in those impacted areas are able to have heat.

Los Alamos residents are encouraged to be judicious about their natural gas use to help restore the natural gas pressure.

Los Alamos also escaped another incident, Arrowsmith said. As a result of losing pressure in the natural gas, PNM shut down their gas fired electric generation plant in Albuquerque. While it eases the gas situation, it results in greater demand on other electricity supply sources.

Arrowsmith said in response, DPU might have had to curtail its electricity transmission and was planning to send out auto-dial messages to its customers that rolling blackouts were going to happen. However, PNM called and announced blackouts will not be necessary.

Arrowsmith said he does not anticipate needing to conduct any blackouts.

Even when the gas gets turned on, there is still a lot of work to do.  Arrowsmith said all the pilot lights in this region will need to be relit by utility crews. To give a picture of the scope of this work, Arrowsmith said DPU has 7,000 gas customers. The exact number of housholds impacted in these other areas remains to be determined. Usually each household has more than one pilot light.

To help with this work, Arrowsmith said DPU has volunteered crews to help relight the pilot lights in those areas impacted by the shutoff. In 2000, when Los Alamos needed to extinguish pilot lights during the Cerro Grande Fire, the utility crews from outside Los Alamos pitched in to help relight them when the fire emergency ceased. This is simply returning the favor, Arrowsmith said.

New Mexico Gas Company says natural gas service was disrupted in Bernalillo, Placitas, Taos, Questa, Red River and parts of Albuquerque, Silver City, Alamogordo, Tularosa and La Luz.

The utility says the demand is high because of the extremely cold weather across New Mexico.

The company also says rolling blackouts in West Texas have impeded the delivery of natural gas coming into New Mexico.

Emergency shelters have been opened in Alamogordo and Silver City.

Public Service Company of New Mexico was urging electric customers in Alamogordo, Tularosa and Ruidoso to cut back on electricity use to prevent outages.

The company says crews were repairing a transmission line in the area after it went out of service.

The following list of service disruptions was obtained at the New Mexico Gas Co. website:

Emergency Updates and Resources

The most complete and up-to-date-information, including affected service areas and assistance and emergency shelters, is being made available for our customers here. This page will be continually updated as new information becomes available. (Last update at 12:54 pm)

Service Disruptions
2/3/2011 12:00 PM
Service has been disrupted to Santa Clara Pueblo, Okway Owingeh Pueblo and portions of San Ildefonso Pueblo and Santa Ana Pueblo. Our Native American liaison has worked with Pueblo governments and agencies, to make emergency shelters and assistance available to customers. A tribal bulletin has already been sent out to residents of San Idelfonso Pueblo with information - if you did not receive one, please contact the Governor's office at 505-455-2273.

2/3/2011 9:02 AM
At this time, service is disrupted in Espanola, affecting about 2,600 customers.

2/3/2011 8:07 AM
New Mexico Gas Company continues to work to preserve natural gas service to as many customers as possible. At this time, natural service is being disrupted in Bernalillo and Placitas, affecting 9,000 customers; and in Taos, Questa and Red River areas, affecting 10,800 customers.

2/3/2011 7:58 AM
Natural gas has been disrupted at Coronado Village Mobile Home Park at 8401 Pan American Fwy in Albuquerque, affecting 200 customers. There are also isolated and sporadic incidents in the Albuquerque metro area at this time. Update: Service has been restored to Coronado Village Mobile Home Park.

2/3/2011 6:39 AM
Natural gas service is currently disrupted in northern sections of Silver City, affecting 750 customers. New Mexico Gas Company is working with city officials and agencies now and information on emergency shelters and assistance will be available soon.

2/3/2011 5:30 AM
At this time, natural gas service has been disrupted to customers in Otero County. The affected areas currently include residents and businesses north of County Road 545 into Tularosa, the Village of Tularosa and La Luz, and northern sections of Alamogordo. Approximately, 2,500 customers have been affected. Natural gas has also been curtailed in Alamogordo public schools and the recreation center.
New Mexico Gas Company has been taking steps to maintain service to as many customers as possible. The extremely cold weather has peaked demand for natural gas and we will continue to work to maintain and restore service as quickly as possible.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.