Monday, February 07, 2011

Got Gas?

No, not indigestion.
The title has been a frequent greeting here in Taos over the last 5 days.

It's a bit of a long story, and the story is far from clear, but here are some of the facts:
o) Taos had -24 degrees F Thursday morning, the most severe of a cold snap that affected all of New Mexico and Texas;
o) By midday Thursday, we found out that Taos and a few other communities in New Mexico were having their natural gas shut off by the local company, now called New Mexico Gas;
o) The company's line is more or less this: in West Texas, the cold caused overuse of electricity and gas--gas is used for some of the electricity production there--and the system (which gets gas both from Texas and New Mexico) was losing pressure fast;
o) So, the company made some strategic decisions about cutting off gas to some of the places at the end of their pipeline system: Taos, Espanola (30 mi. south of here), some of the pueblos around here, Bernalillo (a small city near Albuquerque) the rest of our county, and some places in the south of the state (Silver City, Alamogordo);
o) Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Texas (where they had the Super Bowl on Sunday, giant heated stadium) didn't get cut off;
o) They've been restoring the gas since Saturday--first they have to cut it off at each house or business, then once the area's all shut off, they turn it back on, first for the area, then for each house or business;
o) By yesterday, most of the areas except Taos, Espanola, and some pueblos had their gas back.

Today, the Gas Company's people came to Taos, and they've been turning the gas back on--we got ours about 4 p.m. They're not quite finished, and may not finish for another 24 or 48 hours.

So, we were without heat, hot water, or cooking gas for five days. Nearly every business and restaurant in town was closed, along with the schools on Friday and today. It was especially frustrating because the gas company has been very vague about when the gas would be turned back on, yet people had to stay at their houses for when they showed up.

People have helped each other out a lot here, and there were few or no casualties--for example, we had dinner at a friend's house (who had a propane tank), the kids stayed there, people loaned us electric space heaters, etc. However, there is a lot of anger at the gas company, who clearly chose to cut us off (they say, to avoid greater system failures)--coincidentally, or not, they were poorer communities, not the local money or power centers, and at our new Republican governor, who's been less than helpful (she got slaughtered in both Taos and Espanola).

People here are looking for revenge, but I think the material damages--apart from businesses having to close for some days because of no gas--will be fairly small. The Gas Company has had to spend a lot of money bringing in plumbers, pipe fitters, etc. from all over to help restore service. There is always a lot of resentment of Texas here (Governor Martinez was born in El Paso and was derisively referred to as "Susana la Tejana" in the election campaign), so that's part of the mix; also, there is an area near here called Valle Vidal with great natural beauty which was blocked for gas development a couple of years ago by Gov. Richardson after a major public campaign, so there is also the theory that the gas company is getting back to us for that.

So far, though there has been some talk of it, the Taosenos have not "gone all Egyptian" on the gas company--yet. I think it will be a long time before Gov. Martinez shows her face up here.

All systems are go here, which is good because they're calling for another snowstorm tonight! I've laid up a lot of firewood, and haven't returned our electric heaters to our friends just yet.

1 comment:

Chin Shih Tang said...

Feb. 10--The mop-up operation is still going on; a lot of National Guard trucks checking up on things. One problem that came up was that the gas people would leave a blue tage when no one was home, and that was tipping off some thieves; so there was an effort to take down all the blue tags (!) and then to try and figure out who was left to hook up.

In terms of fallout, it appears a couple of people's home burned up, possibly as a result of trying to use substitute heating sources unsafely. There will also be numerous claims from businesses which had to close. Though we'd love to claim some damages, we can't figure out much beyond inconvenience, sitting uselessly in the cold, and having to use a lot of electricity on space heaters for bedrooms, all of which is pretty hard to quantify and thus get reimbursed for.

Gov. Martinez has come out with statements critical of NM Gas; clearly she wants it understood that she was not properly informed of the looming crisis nor did she make the decisions about the unfortunate communities that would be cut off.