The primary natural gas utility for Southcentral Alaska says the extreme cold is straining its ability to deliver natural gas to consumers.
“This is the most strained I’ve seen the system,” ENSTAR President John Sims said at a press conference Thursday.
The strain comes as frigid temperatures are increasing demand for natural gas heating across Southcentral Alaska. Sims said the natural gas utility is currently at a green level, meaning customers shouldn’t need to conserve heat.
“But I want to let everyone know that we have been operating on a very thin line between green and yellow,” Sims said.
A yellow level would result in ENSTAR recommending consumers turn their thermostats down.
The main issue facing ENSTAR is damage to two gas wells at Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska, or CINGSA. That’s a large natural gas storage facility that the company operates that sends gas to various utilities across Southcentral.
“To the total facility, it’s about 30% reduction, which is about 45 million cubic feet a day,” Sims said.
Sims says the impaired CINGSA wells are still pumping out natural gas, but at a reduced rate, and they can’t be fixed right now.
“When the demand is reduced, we’ll go in there and fix them,” Sims said. “We can’t risk doing that today because we’re still getting some volume out of those wells.”
Meanwhile, subzero temperatures are putting a strain on demand for ENSTAR’s natural gas. Sims says the highest demand the company has seen for gas was around 254 million cubic feet of gas a day back in 2017. He anticipates breaking that record Thursday night.
“I would guess we’re probably up in the 260-270 (million) range,” Sims said. “254 (million) was the highest we’ve ever been, but that’s speculation at this point. But like I said, even with hitting record throughputs, I think we’re still in a really good place.”
While he doesn’t anticipate dropping below the green level, Sims says continued stress on CINGSA may lead the utility to look for other measures to keep gas pressure from dropping too low.
“For example, switching to diesel, that can make a huge impact on the total demand on the system,” Sims said. “It reduces the demand and allows pressures to increase. The other thing we can do is ask Golden Valley Electric to send power down the (Alaska) Intertie.”
While Sims says Southcentral customers shouldn’t see an immediate need to reduce their heating usage, he still recommends it as a means to lower individual power bills.
The National Weather Service forecast calls for low temperatures in the negative teens in Anchorage through the end of the week, reaching high temperatures in the 20s by next Tuesday.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described ENSTAR as a natural gas producer. It is a natural gas utility.