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30,000 homes in New Mexico lose gas service

Gas service is cut off as the state endures record cold temperatures. State offices, public schools and other large employers close to conserve supplies. Service should be fully restored in most areas by Sunday.

February 05, 2011|By Michael Haederle, Los Angeles Times
  • New Mexico Gas employee Steve Larranaga takes pressure readings at a gas meter in Santa Fe on Thursday. Tens of thousands of people across New Mexico were without natural gas service Thursday, prompting Gov. Susana Martinez to declare a state of emergency.
New Mexico Gas employee Steve Larranaga takes pressure readings at a gas… (Clyde Mueller / Associated…)

Reporting from Albuquerque — As New Mexico endured record cold — two mountain towns hit 36 degrees below zero — natural gas service to about 30,000 homes across a large swath of the state was cut off after suppliers in West Texas curtailed production because of rolling electrical blackouts caused by the harsh weather.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency and ordered most state offices closed Friday to conserve gas supplies. Public schools throughout much of the state closed for the same reason, as did Albuquerque city offices and large employers such as Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of New Mexico.

Martinez urged people to dial back their thermostats to reduce gas consumption, and emergency shelters were set up to take in people without alternative heating sources.

Across the country, other states were digging out from this week's heavy snow — or bracing for more this weekend. Roof collapses were reported throughout Connecticut, and officials worried that more may give way.

In Chicago, a historic church that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 suffered extensive damage when its roof fell in. Two Gothic-style towers at the First Baptist Congregational Church came down, sending stone, bricks and parts of the roof into the sanctuary.

In New Mexico, the gas outages began Thursday as New Mexico was hit with the coldest temperatures in memory. Bitter Arctic air barreled southward, funneled by a strong ridge of high pressure to the west and a trough of low pressure in the central states, said Brian Guyer, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Albuquerque.

The mountain communities of Angel Fire and Eagle Nest were the coldest spots in the nation Thursday morning at 36 degrees below zero, Guyer said. Six locations in the state recorded their coldest temperatures ever.

"This is the coldest air we've seen in New Mexico since 1971," Guyer said. The forecast calls for temperatures to climb closer to seasonal norms by this weekend, he said.

"We did not have delivered to us the gas that we had ordered out of the interstate pipelines," said Tom Domme, vice president and general counsel of New Mexico Gas Co. "As a result, we began to lose pressure in our system."

The outages extended from Taos and Questa in the north to Alamogordo and Tularosa in the south, Domme said. Albuquerque, the state's largest city, was spared widespread service disruptions, although the suburbs of Rio Rancho, Bernalillo and Placitas were hit.

Gas supplies were "stable" as of Friday, and no new outages were expected, he said.

Domme said that in order to restore gas service, technicians must manually shut off the meter at each home before repressurizing the mains. Then, a technician must restore service at the meter and light appliance pilot lights. As many as 400 technicians from out of state, along with local plumbers and pipe-fitters, were joining gas company workers in getting service restored, he said.

Service should be fully restored in most communities by Sunday, Domme said.

Haederle writes for The Times.

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