Amid a cold weather snap, the Southern California Gas Co. has asked its 2.6 million customers to “immediately reduce their natural gas use” to lower the risk of potential natural gas and electricity outages.
The utility issued a system-wide “curtailment watch” Sunday to large commercial and industrial customers “letting them know there were strains on the system and they may be required to curtail natural gas use” in the future, said Chris Gilbride, a SoCalGas spokesman, on Monday.
All customers, however, are being urged to “take common sense steps to reduce their use,” such as setting their thermostat to 68 degrees or below, putting off natural gas appliances until the advisory is lifted and washing their clothes in cold water, Gilbride said.
In the event SoCalGas reduces the supply of natural gas to its big customers, it would affect electric generators, large commercial and manufacturing facilities, hospitals and airports throughout Southern California, Gilbride said. The last time SoCalGas made the decision to curtail its supply due to weather was in February, 2014, he said.
“The worst case scenario is obviously that we have shortages of natural gas and electricity that could lead to outages for those large customers,” Gilbride said. “That’s why we have a call out for conservation.”
There is currently a moratorium on injection operations at the Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility above Porter Ranch, the site of the nearly four-month, massive gas leak that was detected in October of last year.. That massive leak, which was plugged in February, released about 100,000 metric tons of methane, temporarily displaced more than 8,300 households and sickened many residents.
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“There are cold temperatures throughout the Southwestern U.S. and throughout our service territory so we’ve had to withdraw natural gas from our (three) other storage facilities to meet demand from people heating their homes,” Gilbride said, adding there is also a potential for interstate pipeline supply disruptions due to the frigid temperatures.
Over the last several years, SoCalGas has relied on Aliso Canyon “about 85 percent of days in the winter,” Gilbride said. But “so far this winter, we’re unable to replenish the supply of gas at the field; it has not been available to us.”
The challenge is that SoCalGas customers have to first hear about the advisory and then be willing to curtail their usage, said Kelly Sanders, an energy expert and assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at USC.
“Considering it is the holiday time and people are entertaining and cooking, it’s a particularly difficult time to curtail your use of heating and use of heating water,” she said.
If customers don’t reduce their demand, the gas company could implement rolling blackouts and thus compromise electricity reliability in the area, she said.
“Customers are the first line of defense here,” she added.
SoCalGas also issued an advisory for the first time Sunday to encourage residential and small customers to conserve natural gas.
The California Public Utilities Commission ordered the creation of the SoCalGas advisory program to help address agencies’ concerns about regional energy reliability this winter in light of the Aliso Canyon moratorium, according to the Gas Co.
As a result of the advisory, Providence Health and Services, which operates the Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, they have lowered their thermostat to 68 degrees across several facilities, including their Occupational Health Center, the Disney Family Cancer Center and the Providence Saint Joseph campus, said Elizabeth Cochran, chief operating officer at the medical center, in a statement.
The medical center began conservation efforts after news of the Aliso Canyon gas leak surfaced in 2015, when security on patrol began posting reminders for employees who leave lights on in closed departments to be mindful of their energy consumption, she said.
The SoCalGas advisory is in effect until further notice. The company serves some 21.6 million customers in a territory that includes about 20,000 square miles throughout central and Southern California, from Visalia to the Mexican border.
Don Drysdale, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Conservation, said they are still reviewing material submitted by the Gas Co. in support of its recent request to resume injections at the Aliso Canyon site.
“It is likely that a mandatory public hearing to receive comment about the possibility of future injection will occur in the first quarter of 2017,” he said,
With respect to the facility, the primary focus of the department’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources “is ensuring that public health, safety and the environment are protected,” Drysdale added.