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New Mexicans brace for storm as natural gas outage continues
Gov. Susana Martinez ordered 300 National Guard troops and dozens of police officers from both the Albuquerque Police Department and the New Mexico State Police to Taos and Española Monday to help turn back on natural gas to thousands of residents who have been without the gas for nearly a week. The workers are scrambling to restore heat before another winter storm hits the state Tuesday.
Martinez said in a statement that the New Mexico Gas Company, which provides natural gas to more than 500,000 state residents, did not take her up on previous offers to provide National Guard troops to aid in getting heat back on in homes.
“It is unacceptable that so many are still without power in Taos and Española and that’s why we are mobilizing additional personnel to expedite the process and ensure New Mexicans are not going without heat. We will work around the clock until the job is done,” Martinez said in a statement.
“I’m very proud of local law enforcement and our National Guard, and I appreciate the willingness of the Albuquerque Police and Fire Departments to step up and assist their fellow New Mexicans,” added Martinez.
The company canceled a news conference Monday as the company has been receiving criticism for its handling of the situation.
The Public Regulation Commission is going to look into what caused the outage. The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the outages Monday morning where Utility Division Director Roy E. Stephenson said that it was a “perfect storm” according to the Taos News.
Stephenson said that rolling blackouts in Texas last week first shut down electric compressors stationed in natural gas collecting fields, which stopped the flow of gas to power plants and the pipeline. Once the power was back on, Stephenson said the power plants had to begin a process before resuming natural gas service.
None of this would’ve been a problem ordinarily, Stephenson said, if temperature hadn’t plummeted Wednesday night (Feb. 2). That meant not only that gas consumption went up, but that power plants had to wait longer to resume service because water in the natural gas supply was frozen.
After the hearing in the House committee, committee chair Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said it was “unacceptable” that portions of the state remained without natural gas for nearly a week.
“Ensuring that New Mexicans have gas to heat their homes in the winter months is a basic public trust,” Egolf said in a statement. “When there is a disruption in service, all New Mexicans – especially those impacted – have a right to know how it happened and what is being done to ensure it never happens again.”
Egolf said that it the committee must find out what happened in Texas that caused the outages in New Mexico.
“The system was crashing so rapidly and with such an amount, that we were fearful that we would have lost a large, large portion of Albuquerque and surrounding areas,” Ken Oostman, the vice president for technical services for the New Mexico Gas Company, told the committee according to the Associated Press. “We were very fearful that we would lose the entire system.”
Another AP story describes the decision-making behind which communities would lose out on natural gas to keep the entire system from shutting down and leaving hundreds of thousands New Mexicans throughout the state without natural gas on one of the coldest days of the winter for New Mexico.
Conservation Voters of New Mexico, an environmental group, said it was a fault with relying on fossil fuels.
“This natural gas crises reveals how dangerously dependent we are on centralized, big corporation fossil fuel energy systems,” Sandy Buffett, Executive Director of CVNM said in a statement on Monday afternoon. “Community based wind and solar systems not only create a robust energy infrastructure, but give us energy freedom and independence and would break our reliance on Texas producers”.
Another winter storm is headed towards the state. The National Weather Service issued expects heavy snow throughout northern and central New Mexico. The National Weather service warned, “locally heavy snow and blowing snow will cause treacherous travel conditions especially along Interstate 25 from Santa Fe to Raton and Interstate 40 from Tijeras to Santa Rosa and Tucumcari.”