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Crews work on restoring natural gas in Ariz., N.M.

By Susan Montoya Bryan

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Feb. 6 2011 2:32 p.m. MST

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Natural gas service was being restored Sunday to thousands of customers in New Mexico and Arizona after record cold temperatures earlier this week caused a shortage in supplies, but it could be at least another day before some customers can fire up their gas appliances.

Temperatures in both states began to warm over the weekend as crews from northern New Mexico to the foothills around Tucson, Ariz., went door-to-door to turn on gas meters and help homeowners and businesses relight furnaces, hot water heaters and other appliances.

New Mexico Gas Co. and Southwest Gas Corp. said supply lines are stable now that demand has dropped off and temperatures are above freezing. They say any other disruptions in service are not expected, but they're asking residents to be patient.

"This was a weather driven event. I understand this was the coldest we've seen since 1941 and prior to that 1911," said Monica Hussey, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico utility. "And it wasn't just a weather event in one place. It was the enormity of it that affected not just our state, but more than 20 states."

Supplies were crimped because gas wellheads in West Texas froze and some power plants shut down, cutting power to gas processing stations. At the same time, demand soared, putting a strain on the interstate pipelines that serve New Mexico and Arizona.

Close to 8,000 of 32,000 New Mexico Gas Co. customers who had been without service since Thursday had their gas restored by Sunday, Hussey said. That included customers in La Luz, Silver City and Red River.

Crews from other states and licensed contractors continued to help gas company crews with the huge job in Taos, Espanola, parts of Bernalillo, Tularosa and Alamogordo.

In southern Arizona, a couple hundred employees of Southwest Gas Corp. worked to restore service to about 8,500 customers, including homes scattered throughout Tucson's foothills. The density and distance between customers was a challenge for technicians who were trying to work as fast as they could, utility spokeswoman Libby Howell said.

In New Mexico, an emergency declaration put in place four days ago by Gov. Susana Martinez remained in effect. More than four dozen members of the state's National Guard were helping with the gas restoration effort, and the state's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department continued to monitor the situation.

One concern was that heavy snow was falling Sunday in the northeastern corner of the state and another storm was expected to bring more winter weather Tuesday and Wednesday. Temperatures were expected to dip into the single digits, but would not likely be as severe as last week's subzero temperatures.

As part of the process for restoring service, utility officials said technicians have had to shut off gas meters at each home or business, purge air from miles of distribution lines, re-pressurize the system, turn on each individual gas meter and then help residents or businesses relight their appliances.

New Mexico Gas Co. said it brought in extra workers from surrounding states and as far away as Florida and Michigan to speed up the process. Southwest Gas Corp. brought in about 100 workers to help with the effort in southern Arizona.

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