You may have read that Newport, RI lost natural gas service Monday, impacting 7,000 customers and approximately 10,000 people.
It’s reported that a single faulty valve froze at National Grid’s distribution center dozens of miles north in Weymouth, Massachusetts, causing the system’s pressure to drop significantly.
Newport is located at the end of this gas line system, making it most vulnerable to a loss in pressure.
Imagine your head being Weymouth and your foot being Newport and you get the idea.
Monday morning was bitter cold at zero degrees, with a windchill that had a real feel of about negative twenty. It looked like smoke was rising from the ocean as the warmer water evaporated into the brutally cold air.
Note to self: Now it makes sense that an army of National Grid trucks were on their way into Newport.
The high demand for gas to heat residents, combined with a loss of pressure in Weymouth, and perhaps the explosion in Ohio (see below) hours later created a perfect storm.
A precipitous drop in gas line pressure can cause furnace pilot lights to go out. If gas pressure is restored and the pilot is out, houses fill with gas, not heat. That’s why National Grid shut down gas to Newport while other areas upstream maintained enough pressure to continue running. With no gas in Newport, and no heat Monday as temps dipped into single digits, it made for a long night as Governor Raimondo declared a state of emergency.
And now for the fix:
The gas valve for every home needs to be individually turned off by about 1,000 National Grid workers and sub-contractors. Then pressure can be brought back into the lines. Pressure can’t be added safely while the gas line is still open into your home with pilots out. Even auto-lighting pilots are at risk since they’ve probably been stopped out and need to be reset (according to my new technician friend at the Grid).
Now from various sources we’ve been told it will take two days to shut off the valves, and then another few days for a technician to go back to each house to help you get your furnace up and running. I don’t doubt the time estimate here, but I also sense some of the higher ups are managing expectations.
Some of my quick takeaways.
Note to self: Make sure you have enough firewood for the fireplace so you don’t have to drive to pick up more—even though the mist from the ocean was very pretty at sunrise.
Also: Call National Grid. I spoke with two extremely helpful reps. One at the call center who was more than happy to give a field worker my cell phone number to call when he was on my property. There is never any downside to being nice in a disaster when emotions are raw. He called to let me know he shut off the gas and will let the technician know to call me when they’re ready to turn it back on so I can meet him.
Do this: Have a network of contacts. They’re called friends and family for a reason.
Power outages are a lot easier than natural gas outages.
Houses that use oil for heat: For everyone in Newport who has oil has heat, it might not be a bad idea to keep it if you’ve been considering changing to natural gas.
I’ll continue letting you know what I’ve learned. One more tidbit: Rhode Island’s gas lines are the second oldest in the nation. I’m not comfortable with this.
P.S. There was a 30-inch natural gas line explosion Monday morning at 11:30 in Summerfield, OH on the Texas Eastern Gas Line owned by Enbridge which feeds to the Algonquin Gas Transmission which feeds to the northeast. This could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, but results from an investigation won’t come out for at least six months or mid to late July when this will be a distant memory for many.
P.P.S. To say we have a pipeline problem is a vast understatement. Shortages of pipeline capacity in the U.S. oil patch could put upward pressure on global oil prices as the main source of growth in world oil supply is curtailed. John Kemp reports for Reuters:
U.S. oil production is running into capacity constraints, which are starting to have a material impact on the global availability of crude, causing the market to tighten and putting upward pressure on prices.
The biggest problem is the lack of sufficient pipeline capacity to move oil from shale wells in western Texas and eastern New Mexico to refineries in the Midwest and export terminals on the Gulf Coast.
But production in the Permian Basin has also been constrained by shortages of labour, equipment and materials, which have pushed drilling, pressure pumping and completion costs sharply higher.
Read more here.
P.P.P.S. How can a frozen valve even be remotely involved with a disruption of natural gas service needed to heat homes across New England? Aren’t they sort of in the heating business? Duh.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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