Newport, RI has no natural gas, and the inside of homes here are hovering in the low to mid 40s. This has been National Grid’s second largest gas outage since Hurricane Sandy. And what’s odd is that it was supposedly created by a spike in demand and a faulty valve. If you’re in the heating business, wouldn’t you be ready for spikes in demand in the winter and make sure valves are in working order? Plus, there was no disruption to our electricity, and according to BU Professor Nathan Philips, regional policy dictates gas must go to heating needs before it gets to power generators.
“I’m not buying Enbridge’s explanation until more facts are known,” said Phillips. “We have had cold snaps as bad or worse over the last few years without such a system-level failure.”
From The Projo:
Greg Cunningham, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, was also skeptical. Utilities like National Grid plan their system needs years in advance and tie up contracts for supply and space on pipelines to guarantee they can meet customer demand, he said. Those plans, which factor in days of extreme cold and periods of extended cold, must then be vetted by regulators, such as the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission.
“Yes it’s been cold, but it hasn’t been that cold and it hasn’t been that cold for that long,” said Cunningham, an environmental lawyer. “This idea that a few cold days in January have triggered some issue with their gas supply just doesn’t make sense.”
In its statement that attributed the outage to higher demand, Enbridge acknowledged that a “temporary reduction in available natural gas supply exacerbated the conditions that led to this disruption in service,” but did not explain the cause of the reduction. The company has not responded to repeated attempts to clarify its statement.
It’s hard to say whether one malfunctioning valve could have caused the situation, until more is known about its type, size and location, said Don Deaver, owner of Deatech Consulting in Texas. Cold weather could be a factor in system problems if demand increases so much that more gas is being pushed through a pipeline and forces up pressures, he said.
“When you have high amounts of gas, the velocities can cause turbulence and chatter and mechanical problems in a valve,” he said.
Mark McDonald, president of NatGas Consulting in Massachusetts, questioned why other areas didn’t feel any impacts if there was a larger transmission supply problem. He said that National Grid must bear some responsibility for the situation.
Still, Bob Ackley, owner of Gas Safety Inc. in Massachusetts, said that it’s widely known in the industry that Aquidneck Island is a place with poor supply because it has only one link to the distribution network and because of its location at the very end of a branch line that runs off the main Algonquin trunk, which brings gas to New England from the Midwest and the South.
Providence and other parts of Rhode Island are not only supplied by lines with higher pressure, they also have multiple links to the system, which, said Ackley, could explain why no other areas suffered severe drops in pressure. National Grid cited the same reasons for why a similar event somewhere else is highly unlikely.
Ackley said that if a single valve is found to be the culprit, it shows a serious problem with the gas system.
“If you’re going to rely on this, you can’t put thousands of people at risk with no alternative,” he said.
Read more in my piece Your Survival Guy: Out of Gas in Newport.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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