Mark Sardella on the KUNM Call-In Show Thursday Morning

Be sure to tune in to KUNM this Thursday morning at 8, because I'll be one of Arcie Chapa’s guests on the Call-In Show and we’ll be talking about the natural gas crisis that shut down gas service to at least 32,000 customers in New Mexico. State Representative Brian Egolf is planning to join us by telephone, and New Mexico Gas Company promises they will send someone over (although they aren’t saying who it will be). Should be interesting, no?

If you’d like to call the studio with a question or comment, call 277-KUNM or toll-free 1-877-899-5866.

Thanks in advance for your support!


Natural Gas Crisis Update

Here is the state-by-state update on the natural gas crisis in the southwest:

New Mexico:

The New Mexico Gas Company reported yesterday that 32,000 customers statewide were without natural gas – less than the 40,000 number that was floated briefly when I was writing my article last night. Note that the company shut off the service to thoese areas in response to low pressure in their pipelines. Not sure how they selected who should be shut off...it would be interesting to know! Restarting will be tedious, because they have to visit each affected home or business twice – first to shut off the main gas valve, then they return to open the valve, purge the system and relight pilots.

Their website shows the following specific service disruptions in New Mexico:

Santa Clara Pueblo (all)

Okway Owingeh Pueblo (all)

San Ildefonso Pueblo (portion)

Santa Ana Pueblo (portion)

Espanola (2,600 customers)

Bernalillo and Placitas (5,000 customers)

Taos, Questa, Red River (10,800 customers)

Coronado Village Mobile Home Park (200)

Silver City (750)

Tularosa, La Luz, Alamagordo (2,500)


Other news sources are reporting the following:


Tucson – 14,000 customers without gas, and no word on when it will be restored. See here.


El Paso Pipeline Company appears to be the biggest player in the crisis, as they own and operate 42,000 miles of pipeline in the U.S. (more than any other company). Their lines leaving west Texas are the primary supply avenues for New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California. They are not stating what their problem was, but this morning they declared force majeure on their pipelines. A number of articles suggest that rolling blackouts in Texas disrupted processing plants or compressor stations, and that the bitter cold caused a number of wellheads to freeze. Frozen wellheads are responsible for cutting U.S. daily production from 62 Bcf (billion cubic feet) to 57.5 Bcf (more than 7 percent) according to Bentek.


San Diego – After experiencing pressure drops in its pipelines, SDG&E cut off 88 of its largest customers who had interruptible rates – discounts offered in exchange for an agreement to shut down in just this sort of emergency. An article just out says that SDG&E’s problem was contractual:  it tried to purchase enough gas on the spot market to serve its customers, but they couldn’t because they kept getting outbid by companies elsewhere.

If you have additional information you would like to post, please use the "comments" feature...thanks!


Will This Natural Gas Crisis Inspire Change?

Hard to believe it’s been ten years since a spell of unusually cold weather took us to the brink of losing pressure in the country’s natural gas pipelines, but here we are again. About 40,000 New Mexican Gas Company customers don’t have gas service right now because the pipelines that deliver their gas can’t keep up with the demand. New Mexico, with at least ten cities affected, has been hardest hit by outages, but natural gas service is also out in parts of El Paso, Tucson and San Diego, and the problem looks as if it may still be spreading.

Ironically, as customers without gas service turn to electric heaters, the demand for natural gas could actually rise further as the spike in electrical demand triggers utility gas-turbine generators to start up. When that happens, gas is essentially still being used for heating, but via a far less efficient process – one that first turns the gas into electricity and sends it down the wires before customers turn the gas-generated electricity back into heat.

There are still many questions as events continues unfolding, but the question that should be on everyone’s mind is this one:  Will this crisis awaken us to the vulnerability of relying on big, central networks like the gas pipelines and the electric grid, and prompt us to develop local self-reliance in energy?

Sadly, I have reason to doubt that it will.

First of all, the natural gas crisis we faced ten years ago was worse than our current crisis, and it certainly didn’t prompt any movement toward self-reliance. At that time the production of natural gas in our most prolific basins was declining fast – so fast that we were unable to drill new wells fast enough to make up for the declines in existing wells. Essentially we were running on a treadmill, unable to run fast enough to keep the nation’s storage tanks filled. When energy traders realized the tanks were just days away from empty, they began bidding up the price of gas, sending heating bills soaring to record levels. But then a miracle occurred:  Spring arrived. Natural gas demand collapsed, and everyone forgot all about the crisis. (Well, almost everyone – the nonprofit Local Energy was born out of the seven months of research that I and my colleagues undertook following the event.)

This time around, thanks to an advance in gas production called hydraulic fracturing and an abysmal economy, it doesn’t appear that we ran short of gas. Nope, this time it wasn’t anything nearly as serious as depletion of a major energy resource. The problem was simply that our pipelines weren’t up to matching the power of a storm measuring two-thousand miles across and dropping temperatures as much as 30 degrees below normal over much of the country. The sudden demand for heating fuel could have been met with the gas in storage had there been sufficient pipeline capacity to deliver the gas quickly enough. Delivery was further frustrated, according to reports, by problems at gas-compressor stations that may have been a result of rolling electrical blackouts – another consequence of the high heating demand created by the storm.

My guess is that the discussion of energy self-reliance is still nowhere near the table. More likely, our new governor and her experts will advocate that we avoid further crises by accelerating investments in our gas pipelines and electric transmission lines. But every dollar we spend on these highly centralized networks increases our dependence on them, and diverts valuable resources away from the effort we must undertake:  building the decentralized, public, democratically controlled networks that will provide energy for our future.

Mustering the courage and the will to build decentralized public networks will never come from news reports, cost/benefit studies or climate regulations – it can only come from the understanding that without such systems, we are sunk. As the old saying goes, if you don’t watch where you’re going, you’ll end up where you’re headed.

It’s high time we changed our course.


Automated Metering Eliminates Local Jobs

A couple of technicians from TruCheck Metering showed up today to install a radio transmitter on my gas meter, and I couldn’t help thinking about Michael Shuman and his work with local economic multipliers – those rankings that show whether an expenditure benefits a community by keeping money local, or hurts it by extracting money from the community.

Local Energy hired economist Shuman back in 2004 to estimate the impact on the local economy of heating fuel purchases in Santa Fe County. At that time, Shuman estimated that more than 85-cents of every dollar Santa Feans were paying on their natural gas bills was leaving Santa Fe. You could almost hear Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound.”

The other 15-cents – the part that was staying in town – was going in large part to the meter readers. Now, I don’t relish the inefficiency of trucks driving around Santa Fe carrying  technicians from house to house to jot down meter readings, but at least it was providing a few local jobs. According to a July article in the Santa Fe New Mexican, the New Mexico Gas Company is hoping that automating the meters will enable them to replace 75 meter readers with five data collectors in the region stretching from Santa Fe to Belen. The sucking sound just gets louder.

The antidote, of course, is relocalization. Local Energy’s biomass district energy study, released in 2006, showed that downtown Santa Fe could easily be heated using local fuels, and that doing so would create enormous economic benefits. In addition to stimulating our local economy by keeping more heating dollars recirculating locally, installing a city-wide heating system that utilizes local fuels would create jobs, radically cut the city’s carbon emissions, and pay for much needed restoration of the forests surrounding Santa Fe.

Furthermore, if the city ever wakes up and realizes it needs to create a municipal electric utility, having a district heating system would enable huge efficiency gains because the waste heat from electrical generators, as well as from other sources, could be used to heat the city.

With such clear benefits available, why isn’t Santa Fe switching from dirty, carbon-based energy systems that suck money out of the community to clean one’s that don’t?

Got a thought on that?  Hit the “comment” button below, and receive bonus points if you can say it in one word!

Page 1 ... 2 3 4 5 6 ... 28 Next 4 Entries »