Updated: Thursday, 05 May 2011, 4:24 PM MDT
Published : Wednesday, 04 May 2011, 10:24 PM MDT
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - The blame game is heating up as the state holds hearings to nail down what caused the gas outage that left so many New Mexicans shivering for days on end.
Now New Mexico Gas Co. claims customers big and small made things worse by not heeding calls to turn thermostats down.
New Mexico Gas said Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories cranked up the heat during the cold spell and that helped fuel the crisis. Basically the company said the labs and the base, which share the same allotment, took more gas than they were supposed to, especially on the coldest day, Feb. 2, when the high was just 9 degrees Fahrenheit.
The gas company claims Kirtland and Sandia used more than double what they were supposed to.
Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks said Bernalillo and Placitas may have been spared from having their gas shut off if the feds had cut back on their use.
But both the base and the labs are firing back.
This is Kirtland’s statement about the gas company’s claim:
“Kirtland AFB purchases natural gas through the Defense Energy Supply Center, who contracts with Shell Energy NA. Each month, we nominate the amount of natural gas we expect to use in the month prior to the month we use it.
"On Jan. 24, we notified Shell Energy NA of our February nomination, which was 125,000 MMBTU of gas. Our agreement with Shell Energy NA provides for an allowance of plus or minus ten percent.
"Metered usage for February 2011 was 124,728 MMBTU of natural gas, which is less than the amount we nominated.
"Based on the information provided by our supplier, there was a surplus of gas in the pipeline going into February 2011.
"Kirtland AFB voluntarily curtailed usage, as requested by NM Gas, the afternoon before the freeze in accordance with our curtailment procedures. The next day, gas was shut off to the installation with no warning. So far, the damage estimate is at $4.2M and rising.”
As for Sandia labs, a spokesman said the gas cutoff there cost the lab more than $3.5 million in damages. He said Sandia did everything it could to help the gas company including sending workers home early and even shutting down on that Friday to conserve.
Both said heat had to be kept on in certain areas where there is sensitive equipment.
The gas company asked everyone to cut back, but the company said that overall customers used nearly 70 percent more gas on the third day of the cold spell than is used on the average coldest day in February.
New Mexico Gas said it called 42 different large customers ahead of the outage to ask them to cut back. The utility says it's still looking which of them actually did.
A PRC staff report supports the gas company's claims that it did what it could to avoid a shutoff, blaming blackout and wellhead failures in Texas for the dwindling supply.